Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lord Monro of Langholm

I was sorry to hear the news that Lord Monro of Langholm had died aged 83. I interviewed him late last year for my book, The Scottish Secretaries, and he was extremely helpful. In addition to being a long-serving Conservative MP in Scotland - an impressive feat in itself - Lord Monro, or Hector Monro as he was then, served as a Minister at the Scottish Office twice, first under Gordon Campbell in the early 1970s, and second under Ian Lang in the early 1990s. I think he was almost alone in having almost 20 years between his two ministerial terms in the same government department.

You can read his obituary in the Herald by clicking here, or in The Times by clicking here, or in the Daily Telegraph by clicking here. There's also an appreciation of Lord Monro by another former Scottish Office Minister, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, also in the Herald. You can read that by clicking here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

John Buchan

I've just arrived in Canada for a two-week holiday, travelling from Vancouver to Halifax by train. My holiday reading includes an excellent biography of the Scottish writer and politician John Buchan, who was governor-general of Canada in the late 1930s. Andrew Lownie's book mentions something I didn't know; that Buchan could have been Secretary of State for Scotland. At a lunch at the Athenaeum on 12 November 1931, Buchan claimed to Basil Liddell Hart that Ramsay MacDonald had offered to create room for him as Scottish Secretary but he had declined, arguing 'that Samuel Liberals would soon go in any case'. Indeed they did, and it was Sir Archibald Sinclair who became Secretary of State in 1931 instead of Buchan.

When Sinclair resigned the following year, Buchan expected to replace him but was annoyed to discover that former Liberals, such as the new Scottish Secretary Sir Godfrey Collins, who now supported the government took precedence over him. 'If the National Government means anything,' Buchan wrote to Violet Markham, 'it should be a pooling of the best talents...Scotland is going to be a very difficult post in the near future, and Godfrey Collins, the Scottish Secretary, is simply preposterous.'

[Andrew Lownie, John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier, 218 & 221]

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Uses for a Scottish Secretary #2

There's a very flattering profile of the Secretary of State for Transport and Scotland, Douglas Alexander, in today's Herald. You can read this in full by clicking here, while in the Independent, Mark Steel has a less than flattering analysis of Alexander's rather robotic style. You can also read that by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Noel Skelton

I spent a fascinating weekend at the home of Lord Crathorne in North Yorkshire looking at letters written by a long-forgotten Scottish Unionist MP called Noel Skelton to Katherine Tennant, who was Crathorne's aunt. Katherine later married Walter Elliot, who was the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland from 1936-38. Lord Crathorne remembers Walter well and confirmed what many accounts say about him, namely that he was a cerebral and ebullient character. Interestingly, another of Crathorne's uncles was also Scottish Secretary, albeit briefly; H J Tennant in 1916.

Skelton served at the Scottish Office from 1931 until his premature death in 1935 as under-secretary to Sir Archibald Sinclair and subsequently Sir Godfrey Collins. Skelton wrote to Katherine Tennant from Gullane in East Lothian on 3 September 1931: '…yesterday afternoon Baldwin asked me to be Under Secretary for Scotland, which I accepted! So I am to be in the [government] too.'

Skelton is a fascinating character with, I believe, a substantial political legacy. I'm planning a short biography of his public and private life, of which Lord Crathorne's letters will form a substantial part.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

The former Scottish Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has an interesting article in the latest issue of Prospect about the so-called West Lothian Question. As a resident of greater Edinburgh, he offers an 'East Lothian Answer' to Tam Dalyell's 30-year-old query. Also contributing to the debate, albeit rather vaguely, is Chris Huhne, who was a recent contender for the Liberal Democrat leadership. You can read both their thoughts by clicking here.

Uses for a Scottish Secretary #1

It's often forgotten that the Secretary of State for Scotland still represents Scottish interests in the Cabinet when it comes to foreign affairs, defence, the economy etc. A good example of this, and the most high-profile I think post-devolution, is the apparent intervention of Douglas Alexander in preventing US planes using Prestwick Airport for refuelling en route to Israel. He is said to have told the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett that it would "play very badly" in Scotland if the flights were allowed to stop at the airport. Instead, Defence Secretary Des Browne offered the use of RAF Mildenhall. It's difficult to believe that an intervention from the First Minister, Jack McConnell, would have had quite the same effect. A spokesman for Alexander, naturally, refused to comment on the reports.


Today is the first day of the 'Glorious Goodwood' horseracing meet at the Goodwood estate near Chichester. The first Secretary for Scotland, the 6th Duke of Richmond, always considered Goodwood to be his primary base but did not inherit his father's passion for racing, despite being elected a member of the Jockey Club in 1838. Instead, he saw the annual Goodwood meeting as primarily a social gathering, and always held a large house party for race week - complete with kings, queens, emperors and empresses as guests.

Beyond the racecourse, Goodwood itself is a fine house with two portraits of His Grace, one of which was painted the year he became, reluctantly, Scottish Secretary. He died at Gordon (his Scottish estate) in 1903 and is buried in the family vault at Chichester Cathedral.

The other horseracing Scottish Secretary was another peer, the 6th Earl of Rosebery, who briefly served in Churchill's caretaker government in 1945. Known as 'Harry the horse', Rosebery was also a keen cricketer and breeder of racehorses.