OBITUARY : John Pollock

In March 1962 my predecessor as MP for the then West Lothian constituency, John Taylor, following a parliamentary visit to Tanganyika, died unexpectedly of tropical illness. John Pollock, recently chairman of the Scottish Labour Party at the age of 33, was invited by a number of branches and trade unions to be their candidate and there is no doubt that he, not I, could have had the nomination and seat for the asking.

When he came to speak at the by-election I asked him why he had declined. "It's quite simple. I see Willie Ross, Tom Fraser, Archie Manuel and Peggy Herbison travelling on the sleeper every Sunday to London and coming back on the same sleeper on Thursday night. I am just married with a child and I'm not prepared to do it. Besides, I think I can be more useful in Scotland than as a Labour backbencher."

On the last remark, Pollock, a genuinely modest man, was mistaken. Unquestionably he would have been a member of the first Wilson government in 1964 and would have risen to have become one of its leading members by the mid- 1970s. He was good-humoured, eloquent, able - and thoroughly decent.

Pollock came from a family of engineering boilermakers, and went to Ayr Academy and then to the Glasgow Technical College. For three years he did National Service with the Royal Engineers, gaining a commission. He told me that he had personally benefited greatly from the confidence he gained in the forces. And throughout his political career, in all the arguments within the party on defence, Pollock constantly reminded us that servicemen had to be treated properly and paid for the job they did in society.

Pollock's time in the British Army of the Rhine in the devastation of immediate post-war Germany made an indelible impression, and he decided that he would do what he could to create international understanding. It was no accident that he was an internationally minded educational leader. From 1980 he was on the executive of the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession and chaired its European committee.

After leaving the Army, Pollock went to do a general science degree at Glasgow University. He believed that young men were likely to get far more out of university with some experience of life behind them. In particular, he believed that it was important that young teachers should not simply go from one side of the classroom desk to another but should have some experience of life.

Having been a conspicuously successful science teacher at Mauchline Secondary School, in Ayrshire, he was appointed head teacher of Kilmaurs Secondary School in 1959, at the age of 33. In 1965 he was dramatically promoted to become the rector of Mainholm Academy, a leading traditional Scottish secondary school in Ayr.

In 1974 Pollock was appointed General Secretary of the Scottish teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland. He was soon after involved in a militant action over the implementation of the Houghton Committee report on teachers' salaries. And he found himself pitted against the Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross, Harold Wilson's "basso profondo" who had been one of his closest political friends. The outcome was a draw.

Ronnie Smith, the present General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, tells me: "John Pollock was an outstanding General Secretary. He was the architect of the modern EIS, leading it into the mainstream of the Scottish Labour movement." It so happens that Smith as a youngteacher also took part in salary negotiations and told me: "In negotiations Pollock was one of the few people whose eloquence actually made a difference to the outcome of the negotiations."

Another first-hand witness of Pollock's skill was Lord Annan, who chaired the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting in 1974- 77. Noel Annan told me: "Pollock was a stalwart member of that committee. He did not talk too much. When he did talk, he always talked sense. He was greatly respected by the other members and was a man of great weight."

Donald Dewar, the new Opposition chief whip, who occupied key positions in the Scottish Council of the Labour Party in the 1970s, said: "Pollock had an enormous influence on the councils of the Labour Party, particularly on devolution, where he carried real influence." Pollock was passionately committed to devolution and a Scottish assembly.

In forestry, Pollock was one of the first people to argue for a balance between broad-leaf trees and conifers; years before it was a fashionable view. George Holmes, the distinguished silviculturalist and Director General of the Forestry Commission in 1977-86, told me: "John Pollock was asked to do three tours as a board member [of the Forestry Commission], which is unusual. He went out of his way to speak to staff about their problems. We on the board were entirely happy that he should do so because he was a man of total integrity, sound as a rock and an independent thinker."

George Robertson, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, worked closely with him. Seeing Pollock at first hand, both during his second term as chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, in 1971, and as a member of the General Council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and its chairman in 1981-82, Robertson said John Pollock was a giant of the Scottish Labour and trade-union movement. So he was.

Tam Dalyell

John Denton Pollock, teacher, trade-unionist, politician: born Kilmarnock, Ayrshire 21 April 1926; General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland 1975-88; married 1961 Joyce Sharpe (one son, one daughter); died Majorca 22 October 1995.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn