Obituary: Brian Adam MSP, politician and biochemist

Brian Adam
Brian Adam
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Born: 10 June, 1948, in Newmill, Banffshire. Died: 25 April, 2013, in Aberdeen, aged 64

The death from cancer of Brian Adam MSP has robbed the Scottish National Party of a key figure while the City of Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland in general have suffered the loss of a politician who was distinguished by his commitment to the people of the area.

The many tributes to Adam from all the political shades and from outside politics are a genuine indication of the respect and affection in which he was held. He will be particularly missed at the Scottish Parliament where he was an influential figure, 
especially during the SNP’s period of minority government from 2007 to 2011, when his service as chief whip was crucial to the maintenance of the administration.

Born in Newmill, Banffshire, to James Pirie Adam and Isabel Adam, née Geddes, Brian Adam was educated at Keith Grammar School where a younger contemporary was the journalist and broadcaster James Naughtie.

Drawn to the sciences, at Aberdeen University, Adam obtained the degree of Bsc (hons) in biochemistry before completing his education with an Msc in clinical pharmacology.

His professional career started in 1970 with Glaxo at Montrose, which is now one of two facilities in Scotland operated by GlaxoSmith-Kline. He was a laboratory section leader but also found time to be a member of the firm’s works council.

He joined the NHS in 1973, and rose to become principal biochemist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. He was also active in the trade unions within the NHS, and was an office bearer.

His growing interest in politics led him to join the SNP after the two general elections in 1974 when the party famously won 11 seats at Westminster in the second election in October of that year.

In 1975 he married Dorothy McKillip Mann, and the couple went on to have five children to whom he was devoted. Always recognised within the Aberdeen SNP as a most able member, Adam eventually realised that the best way he could serve the people of the city he had grown to love was to stand for election to the then Aberdeen District Council, which he duly did in 1988.

In many ways, Adam’s political career reflected the development of the SNP in the north-east. When he was first elected to Aberdeen District Council for the seat of Middlefield and Heathryfold, he was the party’s sole representative on the council.

At the time of local government reorganisation in 1995, he retained his seat on the new Aberdeen City Council and was the SNP group leader for much of his three terms.

By the time he was elected to the newly re-formed Scottish Parliament in 1999, there were 15 SNP councillors, while he and his SNP colleagues Kevin Stewart and Maureen Watt – also a former pupil of Keith Grammar School – won all three constituency seats in the city at the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections. It is no small claim to say that Adam was key to the SNP’s growth in the north-east, particularly as a key ally and close friend of party leader and First Minister, Alex Salmond.

Adam stood for the Westminster Parliament in the Gordon seat in the 1992 general election, and then came second behind Labour’s Malcolm Savidge in Aberdeen North in 1997, the year of Tony Blair’s landslide.

It was a case of third time lucky in 1999, when he was defeated in Aberdeen North by Elaine Thomson by just 398 votes but went to Holyrood as a “list” MSP due to the SNP’s good performance in the north-east region. He was made the party’s deputy business manager and deputy chief whip.

It was clear that having won a seat at Holyrood as a regional list MP in the first term of the Holyrood Parliament, Adam would feel more comfortable representing a constituency and in the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary election he successfully fought the Aberdeen North seat.

Such was the respect in which he was already held at Holyrood that after Tricia Marwick stood down in 2003, he became convener of the Standards Committee, and at one time or other he was a shadow minister for finance, education and tourism.

In the 2007 election, his personal majority rose to 3,749 and after the SNP decided to form a minority government, he was appointed chief whip by Alex Salmond. His personal qualities of charm and organisational competence were to the fore at a difficult time.

His standing in Aberdeen also grew apace, and in the 2011 election he had a majority of more than 7,000 in the new seat of Aberdeen Donside.

His reward for four successful years as chief whip was to be appointed minister for parliamentary business.

Adam had a typically pawky north-east humour, stating on his website that his only personal hate was “onions and garlic, and I feel they should be banned from all cooking”.

His lifelong love of Aberdeen FC stretched that humour to breaking point at times, but he also delighted in the club’s great triumphs in the 1980s, particularly the winning of the European Cup-Winners Cup 30 years ago next month.

That Adam was more of a behind-the-scenes man than a tub-thumper was shown by the fact that his Mormon faith was never something he thrust at you. He was truly committed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and thus drank neither coffee nor alcohol, but otherwise wore his faith lightly.

Adam fought a long and valiant battle against cancer, continuing to serve as MSP and dealing with constituency issues until almost the very end.

In May last year, for example, he performed the official opening of the CLAN Cancer Support House in Wellburn Road in Aberdeen.

Brian Adam is survived by his wife Dorothy, his five children Neil, Sarah, Jamie, David and Alan, and his two grandchildren. Details of his funeral are to be announced and a book of condolence is being provided by the Scottish Parliament.