John MacDougall: Labour MP for Glenrothes
Thursday 14 August 2008
Heavyweights of local councils, especially those who have led successful and well-regarded administrations, can come to the House of Commons and feel very disappointed. In 2001, having been a huge fish in a relatively small pool, John MacDougall found himself a small fish, and perhaps a fish out of water, in the pool of Labour backbenchers of the House of Commons. On our plane journeys back to Scotland on a Thursday night, when we often sat next to each other, he would tell me that he thought it was a great mistake ever to have come to London.
The circumstances of his election were that with the establishment of the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh, the MP for Fife Central, Henry McLeish, had become the Deputy First Minister (and was soon to be the First Minister on Donald Dewar's death in 2000). It was perceived by the Labour Party that there was a good deal of ill-feeling in Fife and that they had better have a popular person as a local candidate and take nothing for granted.
As a man of many friends, MacDougall was elected, very much with the blessing of his parliamentary neighbour Gordon Brown. He was re-elected in 2005 to the new Glenrothes constituency, which took in most of his old seat. It was a tribute to MacDougall's loyalty that earlier this year, even after months of absence from the House, with debilitating cancer, he volunteered himself to be dragged to London for the vote on 42 days, in order to support the Prime Minister.
John MacDougall never hid that he had gone to a secondary modern school, Templehall in Kirkcaldy, and owed his education to the excellent technical training that Rosyth Naval Dockyard gave to its apprentices. Joining the Fife County Council in 1982 after a period as an engineer in the dockyard and then in the mines, he provided himself with good judgements on questions relating to the economic development of Fife and the training of young people.
Helen Eadie, MSP, who was Vice-Convenor of Fife when MacDougall was Convenor, told me of the "warmth and affection in which Macdougall, a man of traditional left-wing principles and a delicate sense of humour, was held." She says he was "a passionate pro-European who did Fife proud during his time as Vice-President of the Assembly of European Regions".
Few MPs took such a detailed and commendable interest in the work of the Child Support Agency. In one of his few speeches in the chamber of the House of Commons, on Scottish MPs' voting rights, MacDougall concluded: "We should consider that a way to bring balance to the situation is to give English MPs the opportunity to decide whether they want the same decision-making rights in this house that every other member has. If colleagues want to set up an English Grand Committee, just as there is a Scottish Grand Committee, to review such matters, that should be considered."
MacDougall saw the efforts of Conservative MPs such as James Gray, who initiated a debate in 2004 on Scottish MPs' voting rights, as "a bit of mischief", which would cause many more problems than they would resolve.
MacDougall was one of the few MPs to have taken the trouble to visit the British overseas territory of St Helena in the South Atlantic, and became a champion of facilities for the islanders. He also interested himself in relations with Iran and did so in an unobtrusive, sensible way by using the parallel chamber of Westminster Hall, which was more to his taste and more like the council chambers in Fife where he had excelled.
John William MacDougall, engineer and politician: born Dunfermline, Fife 8 December 1947; Member, Fife Regional Council 1982-95, Fife Council 1995-2001, Leader of the Administration 1987-96, Convenor 1996-2001; MP (Labour) for Central Fife 2001-05, for Glenrothes 2005-08; married (one son, one daughter); died Kirkcaldy, Fife 13 August 2008.
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