The title of Lord Mackie's autobiography, Flying, Farming and Politics, eloquently sums up his long and rich life in one succinct phrase. He saw distinguished service for his country in the RAF during wartime, pursued a successful career in business on and off his family farm and dedicated himself to the Liberal Party as an MP and a peer. The party's former leader, David Steel, told me of his admiration for Mackie's work as "an outstanding organiser and campaigner" – and noted that he had been "hugely respected and highly popular" in both Houses.
George Mackie was born in Tarves, Aberdeenshire in 1919, the fifth of six children of Mary Yull and Maitland Mackie, a farmer and landowner. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and joined Aberdeen University, aged 16, to study agriculture. Finding academic life unstimulating, he soon returned to manage the family farm.
He joined the RAF in February 1940 and saw action as a navigator, at first flying Wellingtons, Stirlings and Manchesters. Mackie took part in 75 missions in all and later spoke of the drama of flying Lancasters in bombing raids over the German capital. "There was always tension going into Berlin," he recalled. "I always tried to get in early. I tried to get in with the Pathfinders when I could, because I fancied that I was as good as any Pathfinder. When you went in, all hell let loose. They had extraordinary devices that exploded with a tremendous bang and lit up the whole sky to frighten you." By the end of the war he was a Squadron Leader, his bravery being rewarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
The Liberal Party was not the natural political home for a landowning Scottish farmer in the mid-20th century, who would much more likely be a Conservative. Mackie's political allegiance dated to 1945, when he voted for the Liberals in the general election. Despite their poor performance in that poll, and the beginning of a long and gradual postwar decline, overshadowed at the time by Labour's popularity and promises to rebuild the country, Mackie maintained a fierce loyalty.
He joined the Liberal Party four years later and first stood as a candidate in 1959 at South Angus, only to be beaten by Labour's Robert Maclennan, who later in his career defected to the SDP/Liberal Democrats. In 1964 Mackie stood again, this time for Caithness and Sutherland, and won. He was appointed Liberal chief whip for Scotland.
But he held on to his seat for only two years, after being deposed in the snap election called by Harold Wilson, when he was again beaten by Maclennan by a margin of just 64 votes. Contesting Caithness and Sutherland once more in 1970, he lost and never again stood for election.
He maintained a friendly political rivalry with his brother, John (Independent obituary 27 May 1994), who was Labour MP for Enfield East from 1959 to 1974. His other brother, Maitland (Independent obituary 20 June 1996), was a farmer and educator who had stood unsuccessfully for the Liberal Party at the 1951 general election and the 1958 Aberdeenshire East by-election.
Caithness Glass was founded in 1961 by Robin Sinclair, Viscount Thurso, a friend of Mackie's through the Liberal Party. Mackie joined the struggling company in 1966 and soon turned it around by focusing on the production of the fine art paperweights for which it is now best known. He was the chairman over the next two decades.
The Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe recognised Mackie's experience and organisational abilities and rewarded him with a life peerage in 1974, bestowing him the title Baron Mackie of Benshie. He used his maiden speech in the Lords to speak about transport and the local road network, issues dear to him. "The question of roads for tourism is enormously important to Scotland, as well as to the people who regard the Highlands as one of the last areas left in Europe where they can find a little peace and get a little refreshment away from the industrial society in which they live..." He went on to conclude, with characteristic use of a graphic metaphor, "I beg [the Minister] to keep the arterial concept in mind. If the main arteries are right – I am really talking about roads – then you have a chance of prosperity in the veins running off and at the end..."
Working from the upper house, he acted as Agriculture and Scottish Affairs spokesman for the Liberals and Liberal Democrats between 1975 and 2000, where his farming background brought considerable weight to the role. He was president of the Scottish Liberal Party between 1983 and 1988. His experience of war made him a determined advocate of the European Union, reflected in his work for Lords committees, transposing EU legislation into UK law. He wrote Policy for Scottish Agriculture (1963) and his own autobiography, published in 2004.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, paid tribute to his colleague, describing him as "a great character and sincere Liberal, both as an MP and a peer" and adding that "George had a great sense of humour and a great sense of fun..."
Lord Mackie of Benshie (George Mackie), farmer and politician: born Tarves, Aberdeenshire 10 July 1919; married first 1944 Lindsay Sharp (died 1985; three daughters), second 1988 Jacqui Rauch; CBE 1971; died Dundee 17 February 2015.