Alyson Bailes

The Herald - - OBITUARIES -

Diplo­mat and aca­demic Born: April 6, 1949; Died: April 29, 2016

ALYSON Bailes, who has died of cancer aged 67, was a diplo­mat, teacher and aca­demic who had a long and suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the For­eign Of­fice, the Euro­pean Coun­cil and the Min­istry of De­fence. She was Bri­tish Am­bas­sador to Fin­land at a time when fe­male am­bas­sadors were still rel­a­tively rare and, as a mem­ber of the Scot­tish Global Forum think-tank, was an ad­viser to the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment on the in­de­pen­dence of small states.

Early in her ca­reer, she was lucky to sur­vive a ter­ror­ist attack by the IRA in the Nether­lands in 1979 in which the Bri­tish am­bas­sador Sir Richard Sykes was killed. Ms Bailes had been in the Nether­lands for an EC meet­ing and was sit­ting in Sir Richard’s Rolls-Royce when two gun­men ran to­wards it and opened fire. She man­aged to shield her face from the fly­ing glass and was with Sir Richard as his chauf­feur drove them to a hos­pi­tal nearby.

At the time of the attack, Ms Bailes was work­ing as as­sis­tant to the EC’s Com­mit­tee of “Three Wise Men”, which was ap­pointed in 1978 to look at ways of mak­ing the Com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions more ef­fec­tive and of pro­mot­ing progress to­wards Euro­pean Union. In her long ca­reer, she was also a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ice­land in Reyk­javik, lec­tur­ing on se­cu­rity top­ics, and was di­rec­tor of the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, which is ded­i­cated to re­search into con­flict and dis­ar­ma­ment.

In her later years, she lived in Selkirk in the Scot­tish Bor­ders and was an in­flu­en­tial con­trib­u­tor to the in­de­pen­dence de­bate be­fore the ref­er­en­dum in 2014, ar­gu­ing that Scot­land should form much stronger al­liances with the Nordic coun­tries. While in Scot­land, Ms Bailes was also an ac­tive mem­ber of the Dorothy Dun­nett So­ci­ety, which cel­e­brates the le­gacy of the Scot­tish his­tor­i­cal writer whose nov­els cen­tre on no­ble­man Fran­cis Craw­ford of Ly­mond.

She was born in Liver­pool, the daugh­ter of two teach­ers, and at­tended Belvedere School in the city be­fore win­ning a schol­ar­ship to Somerville Col­lege, Ox­ford. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a first in modern his­tory in 1969, she joined the For­eign Of­fice aged 20 and was one of just four women among that year’s in­take of 24.

At the time, the For­eign Of­fice was still seven years away from ap­point­ing its first fe­male am­bas­sador and Ms Bailes’ du­ties as a ju­nior diplo­mat in the West Euro­pean De­part­ment in­cluded keep­ing the fire stocked with coal. How­ever, she was marked out early on as tal­ented and, in her own self-ef­fac­ing way, nur­tured an am­bi­tion to be­come an am­bas­sador one day.

Her first post­ing was to Bu­dapest, fol­lowed by a po­si­tion with the Bri­tish del­e­ga­tion to Nato in Brus­sels be­fore join­ing the Euro­pean Com­mu­nity De­part­ment in Lon­don. It was while in this role that she wit­nessed the as­sas­si­na­tion of Sir Richard in March 1979 by two men. The killers had slipped down a back al­ley near Sir Richard’s home and rushed his car as he was get­ting in. They then ran back up the al­ley and dis­ap­peared.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the attack, in which the am­bas­sador’s Dutch en­voy was also killed, Sir Richard’s chauf­feur, drove to a nearby hos­pi­tal, with Ms Bailes in the back of the car. Later, she spoke about the ex­pe­ri­ence, say­ing, “I in­stinc­tively raised my hand­bag in front of my head to pro­tect my­self from the fly­ing glass and so saw noth­ing at all of what was hap­pen­ing. It was only when the chauf­feur drove out into the street that I re­alised the am­bas­sador had been shot and was un­con­scious.”

Af­ter the EC de­part­ment, Ms Bailes joined the MoD for two years be­fore work­ing in the FCO’s pol­icy plan­ning de­part­ment, where her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­cluded writ­ing speeches for Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher and For­eign Sec­re­tary Ge­of­frey Howe.

By the late 1980s, she was deputy head of mis­sion in Bei­jing, then deputy in Oslo be­fore be­com­ing am­bas­sador to Helsinki in 2000 – 30 years af­ter join­ing the For­eign Of­fice. Some of her col­leagues be­lieved she could have reached the level of am­bas­sador much sooner had she been more con­spic­u­ous in play­ing of­fice pol­i­tics.

In the end, she stayed in the post for only two years, de­cid­ing to leave the For­eign Of­fice al­to­gether and pur­sue other in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing teach­ing. In 2007, she ac­cepted a teach­ing post at the Univer­sity of Ice­land, spe­cial­is­ing in the se­cu­rity of small states. She also lec­tured at the Col­lege of Europe in Bruges and the Univer­sity of the Faroes.

Peace, se­cu­rity and dis­ar­ma­ment were among her con­stant in­ter­ests and from 2002, she led the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute (SIPRI), which ad­vises pol­icy-mak­ers on arms con­trol and con­flict. She was also a mem­ber of the Tri­dent Com­mis­sion on UK nu­clear weapons pol­icy es­tab­lished by the Bri­tish Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity In­for­ma­tion Coun­cil think-tank.

Ahead of the ref­er­en­dum on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence in 2014, Ms Bailes also made many in­flu­en­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the de­bate, speak­ing to MSPs on the sub­ject of small states, and sat on the ad­vi­sory board of The Scot­tish Global Forum, which aims to an­a­lyse global is­sues af­fect­ing Scot­land and its role in the world.

Writ­ing in The Her­ald last year, Ms Bailes de­scribed the elec­tions in the Faroes and drew a com­par­i­son with the is­landers’ de­bate about whether to seek in­de­pen­dence from Den­mark and the Scot­tish ref­er­en­dum. “In th­ese is­lands, as in Scot­land,” she said, “pol­i­tics are di­vided along two spec­trums: from left to right and from union­ist to na­tion­al­ist.”

She was an Hon­orary Fel­low of her alma mater Somerville Col­lege, a mem­ber of the Swedish Royal Academy of Mil­i­tary Science, chair­woman of the sci­en­tific ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of the Flem­ish Peace In­sti­tute, and a mem­ber of sev­eral other ad­vi­sory, sci­en­tific and editorial boards.

The cur­rent chair­man of SIPRI, Sven-Olof Peters­son, paid trib­ute to Ms Bailes. “Alyson was a brave, straight­for- ward and an out­spo­ken di­rec­tor of SIPRI who by her ac­tions and state­ments fur­ther in­creased the cred­i­bil­ity of the in­de­pen­dence and rel­e­vance of the in­sti­tute,” he said.

“She was never afraid to re­fute poor or ig­no­rant ar­gu­ments, but al­ways in a gen­tle, sub­tle and non-con­fronta­tional way.”

Away from po­lit­i­cal science, Ms Bailes’ in­ter­ests in­cluded clas­si­cal mu­sic – and per­haps more sur­pris­ingly, heavy metal; she also spoke seven lan­guages and un­der­stood many more. She is sur­vived by her mother, brother and sis­ter.

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