Archie Macdonald

Archie Macdonald

Archibald James Florence "Archie" Macdonald (2 May 1904 – 20 April 1983) was a Scottish Liberal later Conservative politician and businessman.

Early life and careerEdit

Macdonald was born in Uniondale, Western Cape in South Africa. His father was of an eye surgeon who came originally from Aberdeen. The family then moved to Australia where Macdonald received his education at Chatswood Grammar School, near Sydney, New South Wales and the Royal Australian Naval College. During the 1920s he was a successful wool buyer and when he came to Britain in the 1930s he and his brother set up their own business importing Australian fruits. He volunteered for service in 1939 but was turned down as he had a serious thyroid problem.[1] In 1945 he married the Hon. Elspeth Ruth Shaw younger daughter of Alexander Shaw, 2nd Baron Craigmyle who had been a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP). They had two sons.


In his business career, Macdonald was Joint Chief Executive of Management Research Groups, London between 1937–40, Secretary of the Paint Industry Export Group, 1940–47, Director and Secretary of the Wartime Paint Manufacturers' Association, 1943–45; Director of Robert Bowran & Co. Ltd, a paint manufacturers from 1949–53.[2] and from 1956 he was Director of Joseph Freeman Sons & Co. Ltd. which later became Cementone, serving as vice-chairman from 1962–66.[3]

Liberal MPEdit

Before the 1945 general election Macdonald had not been active in politics but he was persuaded to stand as a Liberal candidate by George Grey the Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed who had heard him speak at a business meeting. He was adopted for Roxburgh and Selkirk because he had some history in the cloth trade and the constituency was a great textile and clothing area, specialising in high quality tweeds and knit wear. The seat had been held for the Conservatives by Lord William Montagu-Douglas-Scott since 1935 and was something of a family fiefdom as Lord William had succeeded his brother, the Earl of Dalkeith, who had been MP there since 1923. The Tories were particularly entrenched in the rural areas where the lairds held sway. It was a three-cornered contest with a strong showing from Labour but Scott held on with a majority of 1,628 votes. Macdonald nursed the constituency over the next few years and fought it again at the 1950 election. This time, probably assisted by the increased turnout, he unseated Scott winning by a majority of 1,156. It was to be a short lived triumph however as the outcome of the general election, a small overall Labour majority in Parliament, did not prove sufficient for the government to carry on for a full Parliamentary term and Clement Attlee called an election in October 1951. Macdonald was unable to retain his seat, losing by the narrow margin of 829 votes to a new Conservative candidate.[citation needed]

The foundations of a Liberal revival had been laid in the Borders however. The Liberals held on to their second place in Roxburgh and Selkirk and its successor constituency Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles until they captured the seat again at a by-election in 1965 won by David Steel, a future leader of the party.[citation needed]

Politics and policyEdit

Also elected for the first time in 1950 was another future Liberal leader Jo Grimond in Orkney & Shetland. He and Macdonald were the party's Scottish MPs and they worked together on Scottish issues. Notably both Grimond and MacDonald devoted their maiden speeches in the House of Commons to devolution. Grimond claimed that the subject would not have been raised in Parliament at that time if it had not been for him and Macdonald.[4]

Because of his business background, Macdonald was appointed to speak for the Liberals on economic affairs, which portfolio he looked after diligently during his brief stay in Parliament and he became strongly associated with the policy of co-ownership in industry.[citation needed]

Macdonald was also involved in the struggle for the ideological soul of the Liberal Party which was taking place at this time. Many Liberals were concerned that, in the years after the Second World War, under the leadership of Clement Davies, the party was falling unduly under the sway of classical, free-market liberals and was drifting to the right. Under the influence of economic Liberals such as Oliver Smedley and Arthur Seldon who helped establish the Institute of Economic Affairs, the think tank which was to later become an engine of Thatcherism, the Liberal ship was coming loose from the New Liberal anchors it had adopted from the 1890s and reinforced in the 1920s with the Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge inspired coloured books. The drift to the right so alarmed many left wing Liberals that many chose to abandon the party and join Labour, chief among them being the MPs or former MPs Lady Megan Lloyd George, Dingle Foot, Tom Horabin and Edgar Granville. However others chose to fight from within and in 1952 the Radical Reform Group was set up. Macdonald was a signatory of a letter to the Guardian of 27 March 1953 which announced the formation of the Group[5] and he remained associated with it through the 1950s.

Politics after parliamentEdit

Macdonald continued to play an active role in Liberal politics after his defeat in 1951 but he never stood for Parliament again, despite requests from local Liberals in the Borders to contest the expanded Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles seat. However, in 1964, after David Steel's promising showing in the seat at the general election, it seems Macdonald suggested he put his name forward again. The local Liberals stuck with Steel.[6]

Macdonald now turned successfully to local government. He was elected as a councillor on the Metropolitan Borough of Hampstead in London where he lived and was Liberal Group Leader from 1962–65. But he failed to get elected to the Greater London Council in 1964 or to the new London Borough of Camden. In the aftermath of the 1970 general election he left the Liberals and joined the Conservative Party, although he never completely felt comfortable in his new political skin.[7] He was elected as a Camden councillor in 1971 and served until 1976 and he also served as a Justice of the Peace.[2]


  1. ^ J Reynolds & R Ingham, Biography: Archie Macdonald; Journal of Liberal History, Issue 41, Winter 2003 p.11 ff
  2. ^ a b Who was Who, OUP, 2007
  3. ^ Obituary, The Times, 22 April 1983
  4. ^ Geoffrey Sell, Scottish Devolution, the Grimond Years, Journal of Liberal History, Issue 17, Winter 1997–98: "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 May 2011. Retrieved 2008-05-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Alan Watkins, The Liberal Dilemma, Macgibbon & Kee, 1966 p.70
  6. ^ David Steel, Against Goliath, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989, p. 37
  7. ^ J Reynolds & R Ingham, op cit p.14

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Lord William Montagu Douglas Scott
Member of Parliament for Roxburgh and Selkirk
Succeeded by
Charles Donaldson