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William Ross

(1911—1988) politician


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(1911–88), the longest-serving Labour Secretary of State for Scotland. He held this office throughout the years when Harold Wilson was prime minister (1964–70; 1974–6). Ross was born in Ayrshire in 1911, educated at Ayr Academy and Glasgow University, and was a schoolteacher before entering parliament at a by-election in 1946 representing Kilmarnock. Unlike many who held the office of Secretary of State for Scotland, Ross was a formidable politician. His career straddled the period before and after devolution came onto the political agenda. He was fiercely Scottish. Before their return to power in 1964, he led Labour attacks (see Labourism) on the Conservatives (see Unionism) for abandoning Scotland and was a strong advocate of economic planning on a Scottish basis. In 1965, he protested when a House of Commons Christmas card carried a scene from Simon de Montfort's English parliament in 1265. During his period as Scottish Secretary, Scotland's share of public expenditure increased and this was at least partly due to his persistent and determined advocacy of Scottish interests. Richard Crossman, his cabinet colleague, remarked in his Diaries that Ross and his friends ‘accuse the Scot. Nats. (see nationalism) of separatism but what Willie Ross himself actually likes is to keep Scottish business absolutely privy from English business’. His style at the Scottish Office has often been compared with that of the schoolmaster: benign but rather dictatorial. One apocryphal tale captures this. On accepting a junior ministerial position at the Scottish Office, and MP asked Ross ‘what shall I do?’, to which Ross replied, ‘Ye'll dae as yer telt’. The rise of the SNP forced Labour to accept devolution. Ross was never a true convert but he was loyal to the party and to Wilson and Labour's conversion to devolution in 1974, which in time became genuine, owed much to Ross. He was replaced as Scottish Secretary when Wilson unexpectedly resigned in 1976. He maintained that ‘for the Scot it is the top job; any other job would be dull indeed after the hectic, crisis-ridden life as Scotland's Secretary of State’. Ross was one of the few to have held the office who probably genuinely felt this way.

From The Oxford Companion to Scottish History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.



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