Obituary: Sir Russell Fairgrieve

RUSSELL FAIRGRIEVE held high office in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and was an influential figure in many of the significant events of the party's post-war history. Had he lived just a few more weeks, he would have witnessed the reality of a Scottish parliament, a cause in which he had steadfastly believed for over 30 years.

Fairgrieve was born in 1924 into a prosperous mill-owning Borders family. Educated at St Mary's School in Melrose, and later at Sedbergh, he saw war service as a commissioned officer in the 8th Gurkha Rifles and continued his military service in the TA with the King's Own Scottish Borderers until 1963.

Returning from army service, he embarked upon his twin careers of business and politics. After studying at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels, he gained experience in the textile industry before following his father into the long-established family yarn-spinning firm of Laidlaw & Fairgrieve. He ran the Ladhope Mills in Galashiels, becoming a director of Dawson International after it acquired their firm, and he retained a lifelong interest in the textile industry.

Nineteen forty-seven saw his incipient interest in politics. Joining the local branch of the Young Unionists, he had within three years become convenor of the powerful eastern division of the Scottish Young Unionists. At the comparatively young age of 25, he was elected to the Galashiels Town Council and Selkirk County Council. He rose through the ranks of the senior Scottish party and was chairman of the Eastern Divisional Council at the time of the controversial and, in some quarters, bitterly opposed creation of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association, whose first President he became in 1965.

With a secure business base, Russell Fairgrieve continued to serve the Scottish Party as vice-chairman (for this he was appointed CBE in 1974). Following the Scottish National Party victory at Hamilton, Edward Heath reappraised Conservative policy on constitutional change, and Fairgrieve was there to offer the timely advice to catch the mood of the Scottish people when Heath made his Declaration of Perth in 1968 committing the Conservative Party to create a Scottish assembly. Although the party subsequently ditched this commitment, and is widely believed to have forfeited electoral support thereby, Fairgrieve remained true to his belief in devolution.

It was natural that he should seek election to Parliament. His local seat of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles had been captured by David Steel at a by-election in 1965 and the Borders association selected Fairgrieve for the 1970 election in preference to the young Malcolm Rifkind. It is one of life's little ironies that the Dawson group, which owned Laidlaw & Fairgrieve, announced redundancies during the campaign, enabling David Steel to scrape back, just. In 1974, the abrupt announcement by Col "Mad Mitch" Mitchell that he would not be seeking re-election, created the parliamentary vacancy that Fairgrieve had long sought. He served diligently as MP for West Aberdeenshire until 1983 when he left Parliament to resume a business career in which his vision and acumen were widely recognised.

Margaret Thatcher appointed him Chairman of the Scottish Party in 1975, a duty which he combined with that of the Scottish Whip in a parliamentary party which had been ravaged by SNP victories in its rural heartland. Fairgrieve set about his duties with gusto, producing the seminal Fairgrieve Report which heralded much closer co-operation with Central Office in London. He had to battle with entrenched opposition to the loss of independence for the Scottish party, but he stomped the country arguing that it was better to be plugged into the 240 volts of Smith Square than the Scottish party's 12-volt accumulator.

He served Thatcher loyally, though his brand of Conservatism was not hers. As architect of the party's campaign to recover seats lost to the Nationalists, he had the satisfaction of winning back seven seats in 1979, and was rewarded with junior ministerial appointment at the Scottish Office under George Younger until 1981, when he left government with a well-merited knighthood. He maintained his support for the European Movement, serving as chairman of the Scottish Council, and co-operated willingly and publicly with other politicians on issues which he believed straddled party boundaries.

Russell Fairgrieve was a kindly man but one who did not mince his words. On issues like Europe and devolution which divided the Conservative Party, he was outspoken and uncompromising (the party's growing Euro-scepticism troubled him), yet those who disagreed with him readily acknowledged his sincerity, warmth and humour.

Later life robbed him of his mobility, but he lost neither his spirit nor his commitment to the causes about which he cared. He enjoyed a long and happy marriage and is survived by his wife, Millie, a son and three daughters. A lady of sparkle and charm, Millie was a constant support and, when the pressures of politics lessened, they were able to enjoy many shared pursuits like their love of fine art, in their beautiful home above the Tweed. Russell Fairgrieve fairly epitomised the best traditions of public life in Scotland.

Michael Hirst

Thomas Russell Fairgrieve, businessman and politician: born Galashiels, Selkirkshire 3 May 1924; CBE 1974; MP (Conservative) Aberdeenshire West 1974-83; Chairman, Conservative Party in Scotland 1975-80; Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Scottish Office 1979-81; Kt 1981; married 1954 Millie Mitchell (one son, three daughters); died Berne, Switzerland 17 February 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering