Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Veteran nationalist Billy Wolfe dies at the age of 86

Billy Wolfe
Mr Wolfe was credited with transforming the SNP

Tributes have been paid to former SNP leader William "Billy" Wolfe, who has died at the age of 86.

Born in 1924, he joined the SNP in 1959 and helped to define the party's political identity.

Under his leadership, the party achieved its greatest Westminster electoral success in 1974.

First Minister Alex Salmond said Mr Wolfe had transformed the SNP into a modern political party and would be greatly missed.

Mr Wolfe died on Thursday night in Udston Hospital in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, after a period of illness.

He was educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, before qualifying as a chartered accountant.

He served in the Scottish Horse Regiment in World War II.

Billy Wolfe blazed the trail in the professionalisation and organisation of the SNP
Alex Salmond
First Minister

Mr Wolfe secured a surprise second place in the 1962 West Lothian by-election and went on to contest the seat for the SNP at a further six general elections.

He rose through the ranks to become senior vice chairman of the SNP between 1966 and 1969, before replacing Arthur Donaldson as party leader that year.

In 1974 the party secured 11 seats in the October general election, which remains their greatest victory in the Westminster parliament.

Mr Wolfe stood down as party leader in 1979, before taking on the role of party president a year later.

From 1991 to 2008 he served variously as a member of the SNP national executive committee and an elected member of the national council.

Deeply saddened

He unsuccessfully ran for the SNP presidency again in 2005 after Winnie Ewing stepped down.

Mr Wolfe is survived by his wife Kate and by four children from a previous marriage.

SNP leader Mr Salmond said: "I am deeply saddened at Billy's passing, and my thoughts are with Kate and his children David, Sheila, Ilene and Patrick.

"Billy Wolfe blazed the trail in the professionalisation and organisation of the SNP and he, more than anyone, transformed it into a modern political party."

He added that the party had achieved "outstanding success" in the mid-1970s under Mr Wolfe's leadership and he would be greatly missed.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray offered his condolences to Mr Wolfe's family.

Mr Gray said: "He played an important role in Scottish politics and was a leading figure in his party for many years. The contribution he made will not be forgotten."

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