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William Adamson (2 April 1863 – 23 February 1936) was a Scottish trade unionist and Labour politician. He was Leader of the Labour Party from 1917 to 1921 and served as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1924 and during 1929–1931 in the first two Labour ministries headed by Ramsay MacDonald.

William Adamson
Cropped photograph of William Adamson.jpg
Adamson in 1911
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
24 October 1917 – 14 February 1921
Chief WhipGeorge Henry Roberts
William Tyson Wilson
Arthur Henderson
Preceded byArthur Henderson
Succeeded byJ. R. Clynes
Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
7 June 1929 – 24 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded bySir John Gilmour
Succeeded byArchibald Sinclair
In office
22 January 1924 – 3 November 1924
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byRonald Munro Ferguson
Succeeded bySir John Gilmour
Member of Parliament for West Fife
In office
19 December 1910 – 27 October 1931
Preceded bySir John Gilmour, Bt
Succeeded bySir Archibald Sinclair, Bt
Personal details
Born2 April 1863 (1863-04-02)
Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland
Died23 February 1936 (1936-02-24) (aged 72)
Political partyLabour
Alma maternone


Adamson was born in Dunfermline, Fife, and was educated at a local dame school. He worked as a miner in Fife where he became involved with the National Union of Mineworkers. In 1902–08 he was Assistant Secretary of the Fife and Kinross Miners' Association,[1] and he thereafter served as its General Secretary.[2]

Political careerEdit

Adamson in 1920

Active with the new Labour Party, Adamson was first elected to Parliament for West Fife in the December 1910 general election[3][4] and became leader of the party in 1917, which he was until 1921.[1] In 1918 he was sworn of the Privy Council.[5] In 1919, Adamson was confident that the experience of the First World War would "produce a different atmosphere and an entirely different relationship amongst all sections of our people" and would act as a watershed in the process of social reform.[6] He served as Secretary for Scotland and Secretary of State for Scotland in 1924[1][7] and between 1929 and 1931[1][8] in the Labour governments of Ramsay MacDonald.

However, he split with MacDonald after the formation of the National Government. Adamson lost his seat in the 1931 election which he contested for Labour against MacDonald's coalition.[1] He stood again in the 1935 election but again failed to take the seat, losing on this occasion to William Gallacher of the Communist Party of Great Britain.[citation needed]

Personal lifeEdit

The grave of William Adamson MP, Dunfermline Cemetery

He was married to Christina Myles Marshall (1862-1935).

Adamson was father of William Murdoch Adamson and, through him, father-in-law of Jennie Adamson, both Labour MPs.[9] He died in February 1936, aged 72. He is buried in Dunfermline Cemetery, just north of the roundel at the end of the entrance avenue.


  1. ^ a b c d e William Adamson Archived 14 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Adamson, William [Willie]", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. ^ House of Commons: Fairfield to Fylde South
  4. ^ "No. 28449". The London Gazette. 23 December 1910. p. 9558.
  5. ^ "No. 30764". The London Gazette. 25 June 1918. p. 7461.
  6. ^ Philip Abrams Past & Present, The Failure of Social Reform, 1918–1920’ (1963), p.49
  7. ^ "No. 32901". The London Gazette. 25 January 1924. p. 770.
  8. ^ "No. 33505". The London Gazette. 11 June 1929. p. 3856.
  9. ^ "Jennie Adamson". Observatory. Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics, Queens University Belfast. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Hope
Member of Parliament for West Fife
Dec. 19101931
Succeeded by
Charles Milne
Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Henderson
Leader of the British Labour Party
Succeeded by
J. R. Clynes
Political offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Novar
Secretary for Scotland
Succeeded by
Sir John Gilmour, Bt
Preceded by
Sir John Gilmour, Bt
Secretary of State for Scotland
Succeeded by
Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt
Trade union offices
Preceded by
John Weir
General Secretary of the Fife and Kinross Miners' Association
1908 – 1917
Succeeded by
James Cook
Preceded by
John Robertson
Treasurer of the Scottish Miners' Federation
1914 – 1922
Succeeded by
Edward Hawke