Nigel Forbes was one of a dwindling band of ministers who held office under Harold Macmillan; only Lord Carrington remains his senior. Fleetingly, in 1958 and 1959, he was Minister of State for Scottish affairs at a time when Supermac wanted his Scottish ministers to be available for Commons votes and yet needed a ministerial presence in Scotland. Forbes must be unique in making it a condition that come the next election – which came in 1959 – the PM should find someone to take his place.
As a minister I only knew Forbes by reputation. James Hoy, Harold Wilson’s Agriculture and Fisheries Minister from 1964-70 and in general no admirer of Tory politicians, told me, “Blow me, that aristocrat talked more sense about farming and fishing rights than any minister of either party since 1945!” This judgement did not surprise me.
My own dealings with Forbes came in his capacity as chairman of the Royal Highland and Agriculture Society of Scotland, in the days when the Highland Show was peripatetic, and as chairman of Rolawn, Europe’s largest producer of cultivated turf. With a puckish grin he said to me, “You realise we are quite important people as far as Mr Shankly, Mr Busby and Mr Stein are concerned.”
Forbes was Premier Lord of Scotland and Chief of Clan Forbes. He was also the last surviving Representative Peer of Scotland – one of those peers unkindly nicknamed “the venal Scots”. From the 1707 Acts of Union until 1963 not all Scottish peers were entitled to sit in the Lords; they had to elect 16 of their number. Forbes used to joke with his friends, “I have been elected to the Lords in a truly democratic manner, and I must do justice to my electors!” His maiden speech concerned the demand for a good bridge over the Forth, to replace the two ferry boats, Robert the Bruce and Queen Margaret, and eliminate delays between Aberdeen and Dundee, and Edinburgh.
Nigel Forbes succeeded his father, the 21st Lord Forbes, in 1953; the family peerage goes back to 1445, when it was created for a grandson-in-law of Robert III of Scotland. One of the family, Rev John Forbes, emigrated to the US, where one of his descendants is the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, whose mother was a Forbes.
After Harrow and Sandhurst, Forbes joined the “family regiment”, the Grenadier Guards. During the retreat to Dunkirk a German mortar shattered his leg. After recuperating Forbes went to Staff College and became Military Assistant to the High Commissioner for Palestine – where, he said, “I was bloody lucky not to be blown up in the King David Hotel.”
At the Coronation he carried the Coronet of the Princess Royal, but was far more than stereotyped nobility. An active member of the Sports Council for Scotland, he contributed much to making Edinburgh’s first Commonwealth Games, in 1970, a success. Above all he was an Aberdeenshire farmer of 5,000 acres who gained the respect of other farmers in Grampian – not folk easily impressed.
Nigel Ivan Forbes, soldier, businessman and politician: born Aberdeen 19 February 1918; Representative Peer of Scotland 1955–63; Minister of State, Scottish Office 1958-59; 22nd Lord Forbes; KBE 1960; married 1940 Rosemary Hamilton-Russell (two sons, one daughter); died Alford, Aberdeenshire 5 March 2013.