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 & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit