Henry McLeish

Henry Baird McLeish (born 15 June 1948) is a Scottish politician, author and academic who served as First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland from 2000 to 2001. He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Central Fife from 1987 to 2001 and Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the equivalent seat from 1999 to 2003.

Henry McLeish
Official Portrait of Henry McLeish, 2000.jpg
Official portrait, 2000
First Minister of Scotland
In office
26 October 2000 – 8 November 2001
MonarchElizabeth II
DeputyJim Wallace
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland[a]
In office
27 October 2000 – 8 November 2001
Acting: 11 October 2000 – 27 October 2000
DeputyCathy Jamieson
UK party leaderTony Blair
Preceded byDonald Dewar
Succeeded byJack McConnell
Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
In office
19 May 1999 – 26 October 2000
First Minister
  • Donald Dewar
  • Jim Wallace (Acting)
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byWendy Alexander
Minister of State for Scotland
In office
6 May 1997 – 29 June 1999
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byJames Douglas-Hamilton
Succeeded byBrian Wilson
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Central Fife
In office
6 May 1999 – 31 March 2003
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byChristine May
Member of Parliament
for Central Fife
In office
11 June 1987 – 14 May 2001
Preceded byWillie Hamilton
Succeeded byJohn MacDougall
Personal details
Henry Baird McLeish

(1948-06-15) 15 June 1948 (age 74)
Methil, Fife, Scotland
Political partyScottish Labour
Margaret Drysdale
(m. 1968⁠–⁠1995)

Julie Fulton
(m. 1998⁠–⁠2011)

Caryn Nicolson
(m. 2012)
EducationHeriot-Watt University
Association football career
Position(s) Wing half

Born in Methil, Fife, McLeish was educated at Buckhaven High School before pursuing a career as a professional footballer. After suffering from an injury, he returned to education and studied at Heriot-Watt University. McLeish served on the Fife Regional Council and he made several attempts to seek election to the British House of Commons. He was successful in the 1987 general election, representing the Central Fife and for ten years he sat in the Labour's opposition benches. Following the party's landslide victory in 1997, McLeish was appointed Minister of State for Scotland, working alongside Donald Dewar to establish the Scotland Act. When the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, he contested and won the Central Fife constituency in that year's election. In May 1999, McLeish was appointed Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning under the Dewar administration.

Following Dewar's death in October 2000, McLeish succeeded him as first minister. McLeish implemented the free personal care for the elderly scheme as well as the implementation of the McCrone Agreement for education teachers in Scotland.[1][2] His tenure as first minister was short, as he resigned the following year following a financial scandal referred to as "Officegate"; the first major scandal the Scottish Parliament had faced since its reincarnation two years earlier. After standing down as first minister, he stood down from the Scottish Parliament at the 2003 election.

Since leaving office, McLeish has remained politically active and has written several books. In 2007, he was appointed to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and the following year he chaired the Scottish Prisons Commission.[3] In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, he campaigned in favour of remaining in the UK. However, following the Brexit referendum, McLeish stated he would back another Scottish independence referendum if Scotland was taken out of the EU against its wishes.

Early lifeEdit

Early yearsEdit

Henry Baird McLeish was born on 15 June 1948 in Methil, Fife, into a coal mining family. McLeish was educated at the Buckhaven High School. While a pupil at the school, he was "too concerned with football", having been told by his headmaster he had no future in education. In 1963, McLeish left school at the age of 15 to become a schoolboy professional football player.[4] His rector wrote on his school report card: "I am glad the boy is a good footballer as he has no future in education."[5]

He was first signed with Leeds United, however, after experiencing homesickness, he returned to Scotland to play for East Fife. He played wing-half and was one of the youngest ever players to play in Scottish professional football. His first game for East Fife was at Hampden Park against the Glasgow team, Queen’s Park.[6][7] His footballing career was cut short by injury, and he returned to education.[8]


McLeish returned to education following his injury, studying at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh from 1968–1973. He graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Town Planning.[9] After graduating, McLeish worked as a research officer at Edinburgh Corporation's department of social work from 1973 to 1974, then as a planning officer for Fife County Council from 1974 to 1975 and Dunfermline District Council from 1975 to 1987. He also worked as a part-time lecturer and tutor at Heriot-Watt University from 1973 to 1986.[10]

Early political careerEdit

Early careerEdit

McLeish joined the Scottish Labour Party in 1970. He began his political career on the Kirkcaldy District Council from 1974 to 1977, serving as the council's planning committee chairman. He later served on the Fife Regional Council 1978 to 1987 and served as the as leader of Fife Regional Council from 1982. As the council leader, he implemented a "municipal socialist" manifesto, proposing free bus passes and TV licences for pensioners.[9]

At the 1979 UK general election, he ran for the East Fife constituency for the British House of Commons. McLeish was unsuccessful, having been placed third, behind the Conservatives' Barry Henderson and the Liberals' Menzies Campbell. In 1981, he began to challenge Willie Hamilton in the Central Fife constituency. Hamilton was a right-wing Labour MP known nationally for his anti-monarchy views. He gave up his attempts to retain his candidacy, allowing McLeish to run in the 1987 election.[9]

Labour in opposition; 1987-1997Edit

The Labour Party failed to defeat Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party in the 1987 election and McLeish served in several shadow spokesman portfolios, including education and employment from 1988 to 1989 and employment and training from 1989 to 1992. Despite the end of Thatcher's eleven year tenure, Labour failed again to defeat the incumbent Conservatives, returning to opposition. McLeish served as shadow minister for the Scottish Office from 1992 to 1994.[9]

In 1994, following Tony Blair's election as Leader of the Labour Party, McLeish served successively as the shadow minister for transport from 1994 to 1995, shadow minister for health from 1995 to 1996, and shadow minister for social security from 1996 to 1997.[9]

1997 Scottish devolution referendumEdit

At the 1997 UK general election, McLeish served as Labour's election campaign director for Scotland. In the election, Labour defeated the Conservatives in a landslide victory. He was appointed by Blair as the Minister of State for Scotland, with responsibility for home affairs and devolution. McLeish worked alongside Donald Dewar on the Scotland Act 1998, which established the Scottish Parliament.[9]

McLeish, third from the right, seated at the first meeting of the Dewar government, 1999

As Dewar's right-hand man in Westminster, McLeish helped secure devolution for Scotland and manoeuvre the Scotland Act through the Westminster Parliament.[9]

Dewar administration; 1999-2000Edit

After the creation of the Scottish Parliament in May 1999, McLeish was elected as MSP for Fife Central and became Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning.[9]

On 11 October 2000, Dewar died of a brain haemorrhage following a fall outside Bute House the following day. Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace served as the acting First Minister, until the election of a new leader of Scottish Labour was held after Dewar's funeral. On 19 October, McLeish launched his bid to be the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party, with Jack McConnell later announcing his bid.[11]

The ballot was held amongst a restricted electorate of Labour MSPs and members of Scottish Labour's national executive, because there was insufficient time for a full election to be held. McLeish defeated his rival Jack McConnell by 44 votes to 36 in the race to become the second first minister.[12]

First Minister of ScotlandEdit

McLeish won the Parliament's approval for the appointment of First Minister of Scotland on 26 October 2000. He was appointed by the Queen and sworn into office at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.[13][14] The following day, he formed his administration, which was a continuation of the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.[15]

September 11 attacksEdit

McLeish was First Minister during the time of the September 11 attacks in the United States, and watched the events unfold in his office in St Andrews House, the HQ of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.[16] McLeish has spoken about his serious concern about the defence strategies in place within Scotland to protect the country from a terrorist attack of a similar nature. He initially worried about Scotland's major cities, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen being targets based on their economic strength and significance to the Scottish, UK and European economies.[16] In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, McLeish focussed on strengthening security, protection and defence systems in Scotland to ensure the country was equipped to deal with a large scale terrorist attack. McLeish lead the then Scottish Executive to working with the UK Government to ensure appropriate measures and strengthen security was in place within Scotland.[16]

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks in the United States, McLeish instructed all airports in Scotland to be on alert and tighten their security measures.[17]

On September 13, 2001, McLeish moved a motion in the Scottish Parliament to send condolences to the people of the United States and New York.[17] Through the motion, McLeish said "the Parliament condemns the senseless and abhorrent acts of terrorism carried out in the United States yesterday and extends our deepest sympathies to those whose loved ones have been killed or injured".[18]

As a Labour First Minister, and with a Labour UK Government in office at the time of the attacks under Tony Blair, McLeish initially supported the War on Terror, however stated in 2021 that he regrets that the war ultimately turned out as a "war on Islam".[16]

Governmental recordEdit

Professor John Curtice, a prominent political analyst, commented that McLeish would not have the "kind of authority" that Donald Dewar enjoyed.[12] He travelled widely, particularly in the United States. He managed several task forces designed to improve the competitiveness of Scottish industry, especially the PILOT project for Scottish oil and gas supply chains.

He was embarrassed when an open microphone recorded him with Helen Liddell in a television studio, describing Scottish Secretary John Reid as "a patronising bastard" and said of his colleague, Brian Wilson, "Brian is supposed to be in charge of Africa but he spends most of his time in bloody Dublin. He is a liability".[19]

Acts of ParliamentEdit

Whilst in government serving as first minister, McLeish oversaw and implemented the free personal care for the elderly scheme[2] as well as the implementation of the McCrone Agreement for education teachers in Scotland.[1]

Officegate and resignationEdit

McLeish resigned as first minister in November 2001, amid a scandal involving allegations he sub-let part of his tax-subsidised Westminster constituency office without it having been registered in the register of interests kept in the Parliamentary office.[citation needed]

The press called the affair Officegate. Though McLeish could not have personally benefited financially from the oversight, he undertook to repay the £36,000 rental income, and resigned to allow Scottish Labour a clean break to prepare for the 2003 Scottish Parliament election.[20] McLeish did not seek re-election.


McLeish at a charity football match in 2011

Since leaving mainstream politics, McLeish has lectured widely in the United States, particularly at the United States Air Force Academy and the University of Arkansas, where he holds a visiting professorship shared between the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Arkansas School of Law. He is considered an expert on European-American relations and on the European Union.

In August 2007, he was appointed to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, established by the Scottish Government. He also chaired the Scottish Prisons Commission, which produced a report into sentencing and the criminal justice system in 2008 entitled "Scotland's Choice".[21] McLeish concluded a "major report" on the state of football in Scotland, which had been commissioned by the Scottish Football Association, in April 2010.[3]

McLeish claimed that Scottish football was "underachieving, under performing and under funded" at a press conference to unveil the report.[3]

Political viewsEdit

Scottish devolutionEdit

As a strong devolutionist, he was one of the original signatories of the claim of right at the inaugural meeting of the 1989 Scottish constitutional convention which paved the way for devolution.

Scottish nationalismEdit

In the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014, there was much media and public speculation towards whether McLeish backed a "No" vote to remain within the United Kingdom, or whether he supported a "Yes" vote in order to create an independent separate sovereign Scotland.

Speculation from the public came from media articles in which McLeish was reported to be talking negatively about the prospect of a "No" vote to remain within the union, but was later reported as stating it would be "near impossible" to vote Yes in the referendum.[22]

Following the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership, in which the majority of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but the majority of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU, McLeish has since claimed that he would support and campaign for an independent Scottish sovereign state and campaign for it to be a fully functioning member and participate fully within the European Union despite Brexit.[23] In September 2021, he reiterated that he would support independence if the union was not reformed.[24]

Titles and achievementsEdit

McLeish also holds the following positions and titles:

Authored booksEdit

  • Scotland First: Truth and Consequences (2004)[25]
  • Global Scots: Voices from Afar (with Kenny MacAskill) (2005) (published in the United Kingdom as Global Scots: Making It in the Modern World)[26][27]
  • Wherever the Saltire Flies (with Kenny MacAskill) (2006) [28]
  • Scotland: The Road Divides (with Tom Brown) (2007)[29]
  • Scotland: A Suitable Case for Treatment (with Tom Brown) (2009)[30]
  • Scotland The Growing Divide: Old Nation, New Ideas (with Tom Brown) (2012)[31]
  • Rethinking our Politics: The political and constitutional future of Scotland and the UK (2014)[32]
  • Citizens United: Taking Back Control in Turbulent Times - Viewpoints (2017)[33]
  • Scottish Football: Reviving the Beautiful Game (2018)[34]
  • People, Politics, Parliament: The Settled Will of the Scottish People (2022)[35]

Electoral historyEdit

Scottish ParliamentEdit

1999 Scottish Parliament election: Central Fife
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Henry McLeish 18,828 57.31 N/A
SNP Tricia Marwick 10,153 30.91 N/A
Liberal Democrats Jane Ann Liston 1,953 5.94 N/A
Conservative Keith Harding 1,918 5.84 N/A
Majority 8,675 26.40 N/A
Turnout 32,852
Labour win (new seat)

UK ParliamentEdit

General election 1997: Central Fife[36]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Henry McLeish 23,912 58.7 +7.9
SNP Tricia Marwick 10,199 25.0 -0.1
Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg 3,669 9.0 −8.6
Liberal Democrats Ross Laird 2,610 6.4 −0.5
Referendum John Scrymgeour-Wedderburn 375 0.9 New
Majority 13,713 33.7 +8.4
Turnout 40,765 69.8 -4.5
Labour hold Swing
General election 1992: Central Fife[37]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Henry McLeish 21,036 50.4 −3.0
SNP Tricia Marwick 10,458 25.1 +10.4
Conservative Carol Cender 7,353 17.6 +0.9
Liberal Democrats Craig Harrow 2,892 6.9 −8.3
Majority 10,578 25.3 −11.4
Turnout 41,739 74.3 +1.7
Labour hold Swing N/A
General election 1987: Central Fife[38]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Henry McLeish 22,827 53.4 +10.3
Conservative Richard Aird 7,118 16.7 −5.8
Liberal Teresa Little 6,487 15.2 −8.2
SNP Dan Hood 6,296 14.7 +4.5
Majority 15,709 36.7 +17.0
Turnout 42,728 72.6 +0.1
Labour hold Swing +8.0
General election 1979: East Fife
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Barry Henderson 20,117 43.0 +4.2
Liberal Menzies Campbell 10,762 23.0 +10.4
Labour Henry McLeish 9,339 19.9 +3.0
SNP J. Marshall 6,612 14.1 −17.7
Majority 9,355 20.0 +13.0
Turnout 46,830 79.0 +5.3
Conservative hold Swing


  1. ^ Scottish Labour was known as the Labour Party in Scotland until the 2011 Murphy and Boyack review, when the title was changed to Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.


  1. ^ a b "Henry McLeish's statement in full". 5 September 2002. Archived from the original on 14 September 2016 – via The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b "Who have been Scotland's first ministers?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 20 May 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Major report demands changes to Scottish football". BBC Sport. 23 April 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  4. ^ Henry McLeish Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 16 March 2001.
  5. ^ "McLeish reveals report card trauma". 21 October 2001. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  6. ^ Donohoe, Graeme (26 March 2017). "Henry McLeish backs fight for more research into football's dementia timebomb". Daily Record. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  7. ^ "Fall of the first minister no one wanted". the Guardian. 9 November 2001. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  8. ^ HENRY McLEISH Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Newcastle Fans.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Guardian Staff (16 March 2001). "Henry McLeish". the Guardian. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  10. ^ "Debrett's – The trusted source on British social skills, etiquette and style-Debrett's".
  11. ^ "BBC NEWS | In Depth | Donald Dewar | Henry McLeish: Campaign statement". news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  12. ^ a b Dewar's successor to seek more power for parliament Archived 21 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 23 October 2000.
  13. ^ "BBC News | SCOTLAND | McLeish wins first minister title". news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  14. ^ "Scotland gets new First Minister". The Irish Times. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  15. ^ "McLeish moves exam fiasco minister as he names new Scottish cabinet". The Independent. 30 October 2000. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  16. ^ a b c d Ross, Calum. "Henry McLeish feared Scotland was 'at risk' as September 11 attacks unfolded".
  17. ^ a b "*". www.parliament.scot.
  18. ^ "On this 9/11 anniversary, the need to become 'patriots of humanity' has never been more important - Henry McLeish". www.scotsman.com.
  19. ^ Labour's chiefs in 'comments row' Archived 4 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine BBC News. 8 June 2001
  20. ^ "First Minister McLeish resigns". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 18 September 2016.
  21. ^ Scotland's Choice: Report of the Scottish Prisons Commission. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 1 July 2008. ISBN 978-0-7559-5772-9. Archived from the original on 23 January 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  22. ^ "Scottish independence: Henry McLeish says 'voting No has become difficult'". BBC News. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014.
  23. ^ "Henry McLeish: I will back Scottish independence if UK leave EU against Scotland's wishes". Archived from the original on 15 February 2016.
  24. ^ Learmonth, Andrew (24 September 2021). "Henry McLeish: 'Yes, I would support independence'". Holyrood Website.
  25. ^ Scotland First: Truth and Consequences. ASIN 1840188677.
  26. ^ MacAskill, Kenny; McLeish, Henry (2005). Global Scots: Voices from Afar. ISBN 9781905222377.
  27. ^ "Global Scots: Making it in the Modern World". Waterstones.com.
  28. ^ "Wherever the Saltire Flies". Waterstones.com.
  29. ^ Scotland: The Road Divides. ASIN 1906307245.
  30. ^ "Scotland: A Suitable Case for Treatment". Waterstones.com.
  31. ^ "Scotland The Growing Divide: Old Nation, New Ideas". Waterstones.com.
  32. ^ "Rethinking our Politics: The political and constitutional future of Scotland and the UK". Waterstones.com.
  33. ^ "Citizens United: Taking Back Control in Turbulent Times - Viewpoints". Waterstones.com.
  34. ^ "Scottish Football: Reviving the Beautiful Game". Waterstones.com.
  35. ^ "People, Politics, Parliament: The Settled Will of the Scottish People". Waterstones.com.
  36. ^ "Election Data 1997". Electoral Calculus. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  37. ^ "Election Data 1992". Electoral Calculus. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  38. ^ "Election Data 1987". Electoral Calculus. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2015.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament
for Central Fife

Succeeded by
Scottish Parliament
New parliament
Member of the Scottish Parliament for Central Fife
Succeeded by
Political offices
New office Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Succeeded by
Preceded by First Minister of Scotland
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Succeeded by