Ailsa McKay was in the first cohort of students I taught as a novice lecturer at the University of Stirling in the mid-1980s. Later, she became my first PhD student. She completed research on her thesis – on a feminist case for a universal basic income – at Nottingham in the late 1990s. Ailsa worked at Glasgow Caledonian University where she was promoted to a chair in feminist economics in 2011. She died after a long battle with cancer on 5th March, 2014.
Ailsa was a great example of what education could do for the individual and of what the well-informed individual could do for her community. Ailsa grew up in a working-class household close to Glasgow. Before she came to university, she had spent time working as a welfare rights officer in Falkirk. She took a joint first degree in Politics and Economics, but she always a retained a very wary view of the latter. (She had some robust views on Politics too!) She loved to quote the distinguished Cambridge economist, Joan Robinson, to this effect: “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.”
Ailsa was never deceived by anyone. She spoke and acted trench
antly and effectively on behalf of those whose cause she represented, working women in Scotland. She founded the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and established the Women in Scotland’s Economy Research Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University. She helped fashion Scotland’s policy on free, universal childcare. At her untimely death, tributes were led by Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, a man she had agreed to help “if he was serious”.
Above all, Ailsa was one of those people who made everything go better. She was honest, passionate, brave, committed – and terrific fun to be with. She was an academic who had a real impact. And she will be very sadly missed.