Obituary: Peter Doig

In February 1972, the Parliamentary Labour Party was immersed in issues arising from the miners' strike. It was a fraught time. And not the least contentious issue was that of secondary picketing, and flying pickets at the power stations. Most of the trade union movement was behind the miners, and were pressurising their sponsored Labour MPs to support what much of the public perceived as all kinds of excesses. Not the least vocal was the Transport and General Workers Union.

It was typical of Peter Doig that, reminding us that he was a lifelong member of the T&GWU and a member of the Labour Party since 1930, he should speak up on the floor of the House against secondary disputes and flying pickets. On 14 February, during the critical Emergency Powers debate, Doig said:

I remind the House that the Labour government delayed the closing of mines, created special development areas, introduced redundancy payments and earnings-related supplements as well as taking other steps with miners' interests specially in mind.

But I am one of the few MPs, possibly the only MP on the Labour side, who believes that the emergency regulations are necessary. I believe that because when the strike started the miners' leaders said that it was their policy to stop all power stations from operating. This has nothing to do with one's views on whether pickets are working unlawfully or not. As I see it, when a union takes its members out on strike it is entitled to picket in order to prevent other people from doing strikers' jobs. It is also entitled to try to influence other unions to join in. It is quite entitled to try to convince the trade unions that their members in other industries should support it.

What I do not believe is that it is entitled to picket other industries. Whether or not a power station is picketed is something for the power station workers to decide and not for people from outside the area altogether. The miners have no right at all to picket oil-fired power stations without first consulting the other union involved. And it should be for the other union to make the decision.

Hardly to his surprise, Doig received a sternly worded letter from his T&GWU head office, pointing out that his comments were contrary to union policy; and, if he did not recant smartly, they would withdraw his union sponsorship - which would certainly have had the effect, at that time, of terminating abruptly Doig's time in Parliament.

But no threat even to his livelihood (for he had no private means), nor the fury of Jack Jones in his heyday, could daunt Doig once he had made up his mind on what he deemed to be right. He penned a letter to Transport House, making it abundantly clear that he was a Member of Parliament and he would say and do what he believed to be right; and, that if the union wanted to withdraw sponsorship, so be it.

I vividly remember Doig's passing me a xerox of the letter during a session of the Scottish Grand Committee. It was a humdinger. I took my hat off to his fortitude, knowing that he financially depended on being an MP and that he had not yet qualified for a parliamentary pension having been an MP for under 10 years.

Doig's increasingly left-wing constituency Labour Party were pretty vexed, and some snarled. They hesitated at de-selection attempts, since Doig had proved himself an immensely caring and effective MP for the people of Dundee, particularly the disadvantaged, and his removal would quite certainly have meant that Dundee West would follow Dundee East, held by Gordon Wilson, leader of the SNP. For George Thomson (now Lord Thomson of Monifieth), from 1952 to 1972 the previous member for Dundee East, Doig was a "loyal and courageous colleague".

Peter Doig was born and brought up one of the four sons of a miner in Lochgelly, Fife, who was determined that none of his boys would follow him down the pit. He left Blackness School at 14, worked in bakeries and then became a van driver.

The Second World War changed everything. He volunteered for the RAF, was put into Transport and found himself at Stavanger in 1940, then at Tronheim in Norway, making a lucky last-minute escape in a tub from the rapidly advancing Wehrmacht.

The following year Doig was to make an even luckier escape, this time from the Japanese. He was sent as a despatch rider from northern Singapore to the Malayan coast, but the unit to which he was to deliver messages was cut off. They took to the sea in small boats - most were destroyed; Doig and his companions were set on fire, after which they were left for drowned by the attacking aircraft. By a series of miracles, which Doig once described to me after playing chess in the Commons chess room, under the pictures of Balfour and Bonar Law, a quarter of a century later - he was a genuinely modest man - he was picked up by a cargo ship and reached the Indian coast. Then, sleeping on deck, he travelled home on the troopship Devonia narrowly escaping U-boats. This experience was reflected in his political style: he always recognised that he was living on borrowed time, which gave him a perspective and objectivity which is rare among MPs.

Discharged in 1946, he returned to T.D. Duncan, the Dundee bakers soon to be swallowed up by Rank Hovis, and became a sales supervisor. Drawn into the Dundee Parliament, a famous old debating society, he acquired a taste for public affairs and was elected to Dundee Town Council in 1953. Success as an effective convenor of the Parks Department Committee, a reputation for severe probity and teetotalism in a city of colourful councillors and the support of the Juteworkers' Union led to his being chosen as City Treasurer.

His reputation was enhanced by a successful campaign against Lady Tweedsmuir in South Aberdeen in 1959 and the fact that he had forced the City Chamberlain against his will to take on the cosy oil cartels, and humiliate Shell into giving the City of Dundee a better deal.

In 1963 John Strachey suddenly died. Strachey was a heavyweight intellectual of the Left and had an international reputation. Dundee Labour Party decided that they wanted a candidate who was the opposite of Strachey and would pay attention to the city. This Doig did.

Doig has been lampooned for his constant attempts, starting in March 1969, to introduce protection from dogs legislation. "I seek in my Bill to achieve three things. First, that the warning be given on the outside gate `Beware of the dog' or a similar notice. Secondly, that a letter- box should be provided on the outside gate by dog owners. Thirdly, to establish beyond all doubt the legal right of people to use an approved dog repellent in self-defence."

I trow that more of my West Lothian constituents put pen to paper on Doig's dogs during the early 1970s than on the fact that I was one of 69 Labour MPs to go into the same lobby as Ted Heath on the momentous European Community vote of 25 October 1971, or on my controversial views on the future constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom affecting Scotland. Doig also spoke his mind on devolution. On 10 January 1978, during the debate on the Scotland Bill, he said:

It would then be necessary to have customs officers not just on the border but at every airport, every railway station and every port. There would have to be customs officers at every one of these places immediately there was any inconsiderable difference in the rate of taxation between England and Scotland.

The same sort of situation would

arise if it were decided to change

the rate of income tax in Scotland.

If the rate of income tax were to be higher in Scotland, what would be the first thing to happen? Taxation is based on where the head office of a company happens to be. In such an event head offices in Scotland would immediately pull out and transfer to somewhere in England . . .

The same argument applies right through the list of possible taxes. Without a customs organisation, it would be utterly impossible to have separate rates if this sort. If we have them, we shall be heading for nothing but trouble. This idea is just sheer nonsense.

Peter Doig joined the SDP in 1981 and therefore does not qualify for a memorial encomium from the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party at our Wednesday morning meetings. But he and his supportive wife Emily will remain in the memory of his contemporaries as a credit to the party of which they were members for over half a century.

Tam Dalyell

Peter Muir Doig, van driver and politician: born Lochgelly, Fife 27 September 1911; member, Dundee Town Council 1953-63, Treasurer 1959-63; MP (Labour) for Dundee West 1963-79; married 1938 Emily Scott (two sons); died Wormit, Fife 31 October 1996.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat