Hugh McCartney


Born: 3 January, 1920, in Glasgow. Died: 28 February, 2006, in Kirkintilloch, aged 86.

HUGH McCartney was a passionate and devoted member of the Labour Party all his adult life. He was MP for various constituencies in the Dunbartonshire area for 20 years from 1970 and prior to that had been a most diligent councillor for Dunbartonshire County Council. Although a lifelong trades unionist, with some Labour MPs then in the House, he was relatively moderate. He was a hard working and popular Scottish Regional Whip (1979-83) and had a deserved reputation of only speaking when he had informed knowledge of a subject.

McCartney was also a genial man, and an avid watcher of football. He served his beloved Kirkintilloch in his retirement with characteristic energy and commitment.

Hugh McCartney was the son of a Glasgow tram driver who had had a bad accident at work. That experience gave his son a campaigning zeal throughout his political life to improve conditions for the disabled. McCartney was educated at John Street Secondary School and then attended the Royal Technical College in Glasgow (now part of Strathclyde University). He worked as an apprentice in the textile industry in Glasgow before, on the outbreak of war, joining an aircraft engineering factory in Coventry. He returned to Glasgow in 1941 to work with Rolls Royce. After the war, he continued with the company advising on safety footwear for the workforce.

Although McCartney had been a staunch member of the Labour Party since he was 16, the experience of living in Coventry and Glasgow - two of the most savagely bombed cities in the war - galvanised McCartney to become councillor in Kirkintilloch as soon as he could. For 15 years from 1955, McCartney served as councillor, union representative and a magistrate.

He entered the Commons in 1970 and was to remain a member until 1987. Because of boundary changes McCartney represented East Dunbartonshire (1970-74), Dunbartonshire Central (1974-83) and Clydebank and Milngavie (1983-87). He often spoke on Scottish subjects or injury at work matters but apart from his time as regional whip he never held major office. He was, however, a strong but fair chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee, chairman of the TGWU parliamentary group and a member of the Rent Assessment Panel for Scotland.

The most significant challenge to McCartney came early in his career as an MP. The Heath government had set in motion plans to rationalise the loss-making Glasgow shipyards. John Davies, the minister for trade and industry and a respected businessman, had been brought into the government to merge the yards into the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. He refused further funds for what he described as a "lame duck" industry. The militant element in the labour force organised a lock-in and the yards were crippled which McCartney largely supported. He well knew alternative employment was virtually impossible and he roundly criticised the government and spoke out forcibly in favour of constructive employment programmes.

The situation worsened when the Lord Provost for Clydebank, Bob Fleming, emotively stated: "The government were trying to do to Clydebank what the Germans had failed to do during the Second World War." Tony Benn (shadow minister) came to Clydeside and backed the strikers. Then the Communist agitator Jimmy Reid (who had originally led the lock-in) challenged McCartney at the 1974 election. McCartney dealt with the barrage of criticism with his customary skill and the voters returned him to Westminster.

McCartney constantly campaigned for better housing in his constituency and was particularly concerned with the social conditions in Cumbernauld - a town in which he took a very special interest.

In retirement, McCartney remained as energetic and driven as in his youth. He was involved in many social schemes in Kirkintilloch and from 1997-99 was chairman of the East Dunbartonshire Initiative for Creative Therapy.

Throughout his life, McCartney was a grassroots politician. He based his beliefs and principles firmly on his own trade union background and was always keen to help and support the unskilled worker and the disabled. Also a major factor in his thinking came from his devotion to Scotland. He understood his constituents and strived throughout his political career to improve their working and social conditions.

McCartney was justifiably proud of the success of his son, Ian, who is now not only MP for Makerfield but also the current chairman of the Labour Party. Similarly, both his daughters are active in the party. They and his wife Margaret, whom he married in 1949, survive him.