British Labour Politician
Born 1947 Died 2008

John MacDougall was a Scottish politician, prominent as the leader of the local Fife council for some fourteen between 1987 and 2001, and was later the Member of Parliament for Central Fife (2001-2005) and Glenrothes (2005-2008). Largely unknown outside his native Fife, he only came to national prominence with his sudden but not entirely unexpected death on the 13th August 2008, which precipitated a by-election at a rather inconvenient time for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Early life and career

John William MacDougall was born on the 8th December 1947 at Dunfermline in Fife to a working-class family. Educated at the Templehall Secondary Modern School in nearby Kirkcaldy, he left school at the age of fifteen to become an apprentice riveter at the Rosyth Naval Dockyard, but left in 1964 to work as a boilermaker for RGC Offshore Ltd at their Methil site in Fife which was involved in the business of oil-rig construction. He later studied naval architecture at the Royal Dockyard College in Rosyth and attended both Glenrothes College and Fife Technical College and obtained a diploma in industrial management, becoming a member of the Institute of Industrial Managers. Active in the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union, he became a shop steward in 1978 and later a full-time convenor for the union.

Having joined the Labour Party in 1981, MacDougall was then persuaded to stand as the party's candidate in an upcoming council by-election for the Burntisland ward, and he spent the next twenty years as a councillor, first on Fife Regional Council (1982-1996) and then on its successor Fife Council (1995-2001). Indeed he succeeded Henry McLeish as the Leader of Administration on the Fife Regional Council in 1987 and similarly acted as the Convenor of Fife Council between 1996 and 2001. Of course as the leader of one of Scotland's nine regions, MacDougall was one of the more prominent local politicians in Scotland, and served for a time as the leader of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

According to Gordon Brown it was MacDougall who "pioneered free travel for the elderly" and also "led Scotland and Britain with nursery education for three and four-year-olds", whilst MacDougall himself claimed that Fife had "some of the best educational and social services in Britain" and that he had left the council with "significant financial resources". He set up and led the Rosyth Campaign Core Group, established following the announcement that it was the intention to privatise the Rosyth Naval Dockyard in 1993, developed the Fife Racial Equality Group, served as chairman of Community Business Fife Limited between 1988 and 1992, and was prominent in the campaign for a second road bridge across the river Forth.

MacDougall was particularly noted for running a tight ship in Fife, and despite an apparent abhorrence of the poll tax, was keen to ensure that the tax was indeed collected in Fife, particularly in such circumstances as when the Labour MP Dick Douglas defected to the Scottish Nationalist Party and refused to pay his poll tax. (MacDougall sent in the bailiffs.) He also decided in 1987 to take legal action against ninety-five miners who had failed to repay loans advanced to them during the Miners' strike of 1984, claiming that the miners in question had only "brought it on themselves". He also earned a reputation as a "passionate pro-European", who sought to improve ties between Fife and the rest of Europe, to which end he established the East of Scotland European Consortium and served as vice-president and treasurer of the Assembly of European Regions from 1994 to 1998, whilst he also served as a member of the Scottish Broadcasting Authority, and the Scottish Constitutional Convention which helped pave the way for Labour government's devolution proposals of 1997.

Parliamentary career

As it turned out, it was the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, which provided MacDougall with the opportunity to move into national politics, as Henry McLeish, the sitting member for Central Fife was elected to the new Holyrood Parliament, and in accordance with the convention then established, decided to stand down from his Westminster seat at the next General Election. Once again MacDougall followed in McLeish's footsteps and was selected as the Labour candidate, being returned at the General Election of June 2001 with a majority of 10,075. He made his maiden speech in the House on the 30th October 2001 during the debate on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, but unfortunately no sooner had he take his seat in the Commons it was rumoured that he was about to be levered out of Parliament.

The problem was that as a result of the creation of the Scottish Parliament the number of Scottish seats at the Westminster parliament was being reduced, and the three constituencies of Dunfermline East, Kirkcaldy, and Central Fife were to disappear and be replaced by Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and Glenrothes. All three constituencies returned members of the Labour Party, and since three did not easily go into two, it was widely rumoured that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and the junior defence minister Lewis Moonie were hatching a plot to ensure that they shared the spoils, leaving MacDougall without a seat. MacDougall was said to be "absolutely distraught" by what was "going on between Brown and Moonie", claimed that he was "doing a good job in Central Fife", and vowed to fight to retain his seat. In the event Moonie decided to stand down from the House, and was afterwards rewarded by being created a life peer as the Baron Moonie on the 22nd June 2005, and MacDougall was selected as the Labour candidate for Glenrothes, being returned with a majority of majority of 10,664 at the General Election of 2005.

MacDougall was never particularly active in the House itself. Having been a big politician in Fife, it was something of a step down to assume the role of a humble backbencher in the Commons, and he once told Tam Dalyell that he thought it was a "great mistake ever to have come to London". MacDougall nevertheless served as a member of the House of Commons Administration Select Committee between 2002 and 2005, and was subsequently a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and was generally known as a conspicuous party loyalist who was regarded as being close to Gordon Brown, who conscientiously attended to his constituency duties, and was involved with a variety of organisation such as the Scottish Old Age Pensioners Association, the Burntisland Initiative Recreational Trust Limited, the Fife Express Group for Mental Health, the Save The Wemyss Ancient Caves Society and the Fife Historic Buildings Trust.

In his spare time he was a supporter of Raith Rovers FC and an apparent lover of vintage cars, whilst he received teh rare distinction of being awarded the Gold Cross of Merit of the Republic of Poland on the 17th April 2002 in recognition of his devoted activity for the Polish community in the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately in early 2007 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a lung cancer which he naturally blamed on his exposure to asbestos during his years as a boilermaker. He underwent radical surgery in March 2007 which involved the removal of a lung and subsequently received further treatment at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in London and the Western Hospital in Edinburgh. The Sunday Mirror of the 8th June 2008 reported that he might be forced to step down due to ill health, whilst others noted that he hadn't attended the Commons since the spring of 2007, and it was rumoured that both the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats were planning for a by-election in his seat. However on the 11th June 2008 MacDougall was wheeled into the Commons and through the division lobby to record his vote in favour of 42 days, whilst the Daily Record ran a brief story under the headline 'Scots MP's cancer battle vow', in which MacDougall claimed that his treatment "had been a success" and that he intended to "fight the next election and to win it".

Sadly according to Cancer Research UK the five-year survival rate for mesothelioma is only about five per cent, and therefore the odds were always against him, and MacDougall died early on the morning of the 13th August 2008 at the Victoria Hospital at Kirkcaldy in Fife, being survived by his wife, Cathy, whom he married in 1968, and their two children, Scott and Julie.


SOURCES

  • ‘MacDOUGALL, John William’, Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
  • Obituary, Daily Telegraph, 13 Aug 2008
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/2553715/John-MacDougall.html
  • Robbie Dinwoodie, Obituary, The Herald , August 13 2008
    http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/news/display.var.2424054.0.John_MacDougall_leading_Scottish_Labour_MP_dies.php
  • Phil Davison, Obituary, The Scotsman, 13 August 2008
    http://news.scotsman.com/obituaries/John-MacDougall.4388577.jp
  • Obituary, The Times, August 14, 2008
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article4525283.ece
  • Brian Wilson, Obituary, The Guardian, August 14 2008
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/aug/14/labour
  • Tam Dalyell, Obituary, The Independent, 14 August 2008
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/john-macdougall-labour-mp-for-glenrothes-894374.html
  • Bruce Fegen, Life devoted to service of others, The Courier, 14 August 2008
    http://www.thecourier.co.uk/output/2008/08/14/newsstory11804003t0.asp
  • Mesothelioma deaths to peak by 2015, 15 February 2005
    http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/news/archive/pressreleases/2005/february/67841
  • Vincent Moss, By-Election Fear For PM" Sunday Mirror. Jun 8, 2008. FindArticles.com. 14 Aug. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4161/is_20080608/ai_n25504701
  • Spy, MP edged out to keep Brown in the Commons, Daily Telegraph, 02/04/2002 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2002/04/02/dp0201.xml
  • Scots MP's cancer battle vow, Daily Record, Jun 11 2008
    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2008/06/11/scots-mp-s-cancer-battle-vow-86908-20602736/
  • John MacDougall, http://www.parliamentaryyearbook.co.uk/mp-member/macdougall-john.html
  • John MacDougall, Labour MP for Glenrothes
    http://www.johnmacdougall.labour.co.uk/ViewPage.cfm?Page=5662

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