WITH THE DEATH of Ian Macbeth Robertson the civil service in Scotland has lost a most distinguished former member and Edinburgh a notable citizen.
After success at school and university, both in Edinburgh, Robertson would have been a welcome recruit to the Scottish Office, which was then establishing a strong presence in the city. Instead the demands of military service in the Royal Artillery and the Scottish Horse took him to the Middle East and Italy, and it was not until 1946, at the age of 28, that he joined the Department of Health for Scotland.
After an apprenticeship thus shortened, he quickly experienced the interaction of politics and administration in the post of Private Secretary, first to Lord Home, who was then Minister of State at the Scottish Office, and then to the Secretary of State, the late James Stuart.
To the knowledge thereby gained of how things worked and could be made to work, Robertson added exceptional clarity of thought, a prose style which illuminated the most complex of problems and an unfailing courtesy which carried him through many a difficult meeting. Not that difficulties were ever of his making, for Robertson was above all a diplomat, sensitive, tactful and conciliatory; not perhaps a great innovator, but a man who understood how best to use, and to persuade others to use, the material that was available.
Robertson's civil-service experience was wide, but perhaps his most fruitful period was the 12 years that he spent in the Scottish Education Department as Under-Secretary with responsibility for higher education and the arts. This period spanned the years 1966 to 1978 when higher education, particularly in the centrally-funded colleges, saw much of the development that has led to the present expansion of university provision in Scotland.
Robertson was appointed CB in 1976, and after his retirement two years later he held for five years the part-time post of Secretary of Commissions for Scotland. He was himself a Justice of the Peace.
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