Willie Ross, Baron Ross of Marnock

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Ross of Marnock
Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
4 March 1974 – 8 April 1976
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Gordon Campbell
Succeeded by Bruce Millan
In office
16 October 1964 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Michael Noble
Succeeded by Gordon Campbell
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
19 June 1970 – 4 March 1974
Leader Harold Wilson
Member of Parliament
for Kilmarnock
In office
5 December 1946 – 3 May 1979
Preceded by Clarice Shaw
Succeeded by William McKelvey
Personal details
Born (1911-04-07)7 April 1911
Ayr, Scotland
Died 10 June 1988(1988-06-10) (aged 77)
Ayr, Scotland
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Aitkenhead
Children 2
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Profession Teacher
Religion Church of Scotland

William Ross, Baron Ross of Marnock MBE (7 April 1911 – 10 June 1988) was the longest serving Secretary of State for Scotland, holding office from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976, throughout the prime ministership of Harold Wilson.

Early life and military career

Born in Ayr, the son of a train driver, he was educated at Ayr Academy and the University of Glasgow and became a schoolteacher before World War II. He served in the Highland Light Infantry in India, Burma and Singapore and was then a major in Lord Louis Mountbatten's headquarters in what was then Ceylon. He became a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1945.


After unsuccessfully contesting Ayr Burghs at the 1945 general election, Ross was elected Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock in a by-election in 1946. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Hector McNeil during his tenure as Secretary of State for Scotland and in 1954 placed an amendment to the bill on the licensing of commercial television, advocating a ban on adverts on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.

After serving as Shadow Secretary of State from 1962, he became Secretary of State for Scotland in 1964 under Harold Wilson. The Conservatives held government from 1970 to 1974, when Ross resumed his position until he lost office when Wilson resigned in 1976. During his tenure he was responsible for the creation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Scottish Development Agency, the forerunners of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise respectively. Ross campaigned for a "No" vote in the 1975 referendum on British membership of the EEC.[1] He was also a firm unionist, in favour of Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom, and opposed devolution. Journalist Andrew Marr has called him "a stern-faced and authoritarian Presbyterian conservative who ran the country like a personal fiefdom for Harold Wilson". Ross coined the term 'Tartan Tories' to describe the members of the Scottish National Party, whom he very much disliked; he was himself nicknamed "the hammer of the Nats" for his many attacks on them.

He represented Kilmarnock until the 1979 general election, when he was created a life peer as Baron Ross of Marnock, of Kilmarnock in the District of Kilmarnock and Loudoun.[2]

"Willie" Ross was occasionally depicted by newspaper cartoonists as a boy in dungarees seated on an upturned bucket, i.e. as Oor Wullie.

He was Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1978 to 1980, and became Honorary President of the Scottish Football Association in 1978. He married Elizabeth Jane Elma, daughter of John Aitkenhead in 1948 and they had two daughters. He died of cancer in 1988.


  1. David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger, The 1975 Referendum (London: Macmillan, 1976), p. 179.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 47913. p. 9441. 26 July 1979. Retrieved 28 February 2010.


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Clarice Shaw
Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock
Succeeded by
William McKelvey
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Noble
Secretary of State for Scotland
Succeeded by
Gordon Campbell
Preceded by
Gordon Campbell
Secretary of State for Scotland
Succeeded by
Bruce Millan