John Mackintosh (Scottish politician)

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Detail of plaque to John Pitcairn MacKintosh, Gifford, East Lothian

John Pitcairn Mackintosh (24 August 1929 – 30 July 1978) was a Scottish Labour Party politician known for his advocacy of devolution, at a time when it was anathema to the Labour leadership,[1] and for his pro-Europeanism. He advanced the concept of dual nationality: that Scots could be both Scottish and British, and indeed European.


Mackintosh was born in Simla, India, and brought up in Edinburgh. He was educated at Melville College, the University of Edinburgh, Balliol College, Oxford and Princeton University.[2] He was senior lecturer in government at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria from 1961–63, and became Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde.

Mackintosh contested Edinburgh Pentlands in 1959 and Berwick and East Lothian in 1964. He was elected Member of Parliament for Berwick and East Lothian in 1966. In the February 1974 general election against the national trend, he lost his seat to the Conservative Michael Ancram, but regained it merely months later at the October 1974 election.

Later in life, Mackintosh became Chair and Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, where he managed to balance his duties in the House of Commons with teaching students, a role he enjoyed. He was a strong supporter of formal lectures and would deliver his remarks written out all in longhand. This style of presentation did his students no harm: during the last year of his life he taught an introductory undergraduate course on political philosophy in 20 lectures; at the end of this series, the students gave him a standing ovation.

He wrote widely in the academic press and also for the educated general reader. He first wrote on devolution in 1966, publishing, The Devolution of Power. His best known book, however, was The British Cabinet, first published in 1968. Other works include: The Government and Politics of Britain (1970), revised twice; Nigerian Government and Politics (1968); and British Prime Ministers in the Twentieth Century (Editor-1977). He was a prolific academic writer and authored scores of academic analyses.

Mackintosh had a regular column in The Times and The Scotsman newspapers. He was an accomplished broadcaster and lecturer, appearing regularly on television and giving public lectures. He was also the Editor of The Political Quarterly, and Chairman of the Hansard Society.

John Mackintosh died in office in 1978, aged 48. His successor in the resulting by-election was John Home Robertson.

He was a dedicated constituency MP. His agent, Gerald O'Brian, recalled at his memorial service that Mackintosh, "only once lost his temper with me when I caused him to miss a constituency General Management Committee meeting – it was the only one he ever missed". He was extremely fond of East Lothian and is buried in the churchyard in Gifford.

Mackintosh was a forceful proponent of devolution to Scotland. He famously said in the House of Commons in 1976 : "People in Scotland want a degree of government for themselves. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise the institutions to meet these demands". This quote is engraved on the threshold of the Donald Dewar Room at Holyrood.[3] The late Donald Dewar, First Minister of Scotland, said of John Mackintosh's lifelong belief in devolution:

"His ideas had a lasting influence. ....[He] was a powerful advocate for devolution...John was something of a prophet, a mighty champion of reform at a time when constitutional change was not an approved and certainly not a fashionable cause. At the core he always placed democratic control, the empowering of the people. He did not base his argument on nationalism. It was not the glorification of the Nation state. It was never Scotland right or wrong. His vision was good government, an equitable democracy, that borrowed, elevated, created opportunity for the citizen."

An annual memorial lecture was founded by ARTHUR GREENAN, his friends in the constituency and colleagues in Edinburgh University. The Lecture is held, alternating between East Lothian and Edinburgh University. Past speakers have included: Jack McConnell, MSP, First Minister of Scotland; John Kenneth Galbraith; Neil Kinnock; John Smith; Donald Dewar former First Minister of Scotland; and Gordon Brown MP, among others.

The continued salience of Mackintosh's thinking on Scottish devolution has also been underscored in The Scotsman by Iain Gray, former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.[4]

After his death, two volumes of essays were published: Mackintosh on Scotland edited by Henry Drucker (1982) and Mackintosh on Parliament and Social Democracy edited by David Marquand (1983).


  1. ^ Gray, Iain (9 November 2012). "Iain Gray: Scotland needs devo-Mack". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Russell, William (31 July 1978). "The man who looked a winner but failed to conquer Westminster". The Glasgow Herald. p. 7. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  3. ^ "Home: Visit & Learn: Explore Parliament: About The Building: Parliamentary Buildings: Donald Dewar Room". Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  4. ^ "Iain Gray: Scotland needs devo-Mack". The Scotsman. 9 November 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  • Times Guide to the House of Commons October 1974
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by John Mackintosh
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Anstruther-Gray
Member of Parliament for Berwick and East Lothian
1966February 1974
Succeeded by
Michael Ancram
Preceded by
Michael Ancram
Member of Parliament for Berwick and East Lothian
October 19741978
Succeeded by
John Home Robertson
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