Henry McLeish
Official Portrait of Henry McLeish, 2000.jpg
Official portrait, 2000
First Minister of Scotland
In office
26 October 2000 – 8 November 2001
MonarchElizabeth II
DeputyJim Wallace
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
In office
27 October 2000 – 8 November 2001
Acting: 11 October 2000 – 27 October 2000
DeputyCathy Jamieson
UK party leaderTony Blair
Preceded byDonald Dewar
Succeeded byJack McConnell
Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
In office
19 May 1999 – 26 October 2000
First Minister
  • Donald Dewar
  • Jim Wallace (Acting)
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byWendy Alexander
Minister of State for Scotland
In office
6 May 1997 – 29 June 1999
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byJames Douglas-Hamilton
Succeeded byBrian Wilson
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Central Fife
In office
6 May 1999 – 31 March 2003
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byChristine May
Member of Parliament
for Central Fife
In office
11 June 1987 – 14 May 2001
Preceded byWillie Hamilton
Succeeded byJohn MacDougall
Personal details
Henry Baird McLeish

(1948-06-15) 15 June 1948 (age 73)
Methil, Fife, Scotland
Political partyScottish Labour
Margaret Drysdale
(m. 1968⁠–⁠1995)

Julie Fulton
(m. 1998⁠–⁠2011)

Caryn Nicolson
(m. 2012)
EducationHeriot-Watt University
Association football career
Position(s) Wing half

Henry Baird McLeish (born 15 June 1948) is a Scottish politician, author and academic who served as First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish Labour Party from 2000 to 2001. He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Central Fife from 1987 to 2001 and Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the equivalent seat from 1999 to 2003.

Born in Methil, Fife, McLeish was educated at Buckhaven High School before pursuing a career as a professional footballer. After suffering from injury, he studied at Heriot-Watt University and became an urban planner. He was first elected for Central Fife at the 1987 general election and served as Minister of State for Scotland following the 1997 general election. When the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, he contested and won the Central Fife constituency in that year's election. In May 1999, McLeish was appointed Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning by First Minister Donald Dewar in Dewar's cabinet.

Following Dewar's death in October 2000, McLeish succeeded him as first minister. McLeish implemented the free personal care for the elderly scheme as well as the implementation of the McCrone Agreement for education teachers in Scotland.[1][2] His tenure as first minister was short, as he resigned the following year following a financial scandal referred to as "Officegate"; the first major scandal the Scottish Parliament had faced since its reincarnation two years earlier. After standing down as first minister, he stood down from the Scottish Parliament at the 2003 election.

Since leaving office, McLeish has remained politically active and has written several books. In 2007, he was appointed to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and the following year he chaired the Scottish Prisons Commission.[3] In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, he campaigned in-favour of remaining in the UK. However, following Brexit, McLeish has stated he would back another referendum if Scotland was taken out of the EU against its wishes.

Early life and career

Henry Baird McLeish was born on 15 June 1948 in Methil, Fife, into a coal mining family. Educated at Buckhaven High School, he left school in 1963 at the age of 15 to become a schoolboy professional football player at Leeds United[4] and represented Scotland as a youth international.

After six weeks, he was suffering from homesickness and moved back to Scotland, where he joined Scottish Football League club East Fife.[5] His footballing career was cut short by injury, and he returned to education, studying at Heriot-Watt University 1968–1973, where he graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Town Planning.[citation needed]

After graduating, McLeish worked as a research officer at Edinburgh Corporation's department of social work from 1973 to 1974, then as a planning officer for Fife County Council from 1974 to 1975 and Dunfermline District Council from 1975 to 1987. He also worked as a part-time lecturer and tutor at Heriot-Watt University from 1973 to 1986.[6]

Political career

Fife local government

McLeish joined the Scottish Labour Party in 1970. He was a local councillor on Kirkcaldy District Council from 1974 to 1977, and then on Fife Regional Council 1978 to 1987, fighting East Fife unsuccessfully in 1979. He served as leader of Fife Regional Council from 1982 until his election as Labour MP for Central Fife at the 1987 General Election.

McLeish in 1999
McLeish in 1999


In the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, McLeish was a Labour shadow spokesman for several portfolios, including education and employment 1988 to 1989, employment and training 1989 to 1992, shadow Scottish Office Minister of State 1992 to 1994, shadow Minister of Transport 1994 to 1995, shadow Minister of Health 1995 to 1996, and shadow Minister of Social Security 1996 to 1997.

When Labour came to power in May 1997, McLeish was appointed as a Minister of State for Scotland, with responsibility for home affairs and devolution.


As Donald Dewar's right-hand man in Westminster, McLeish helped secure devolution for Scotland and manoeuvre the Scotland Act through the Westminster Parliament. After the creation of the Scottish Parliament in May 1999, McLeish was elected as MSP for Fife Central and became Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning.

Leadership of the Scottish Labour Party

On 11 October 2000, Dewar died of a brain haemorrhage following a fall outside Bute House the following day. Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace served as the acting First Minister, until the election of a new leader of Scottish Labour was held after Dewar's funeral. On 19 October, McLeish launched his bid to be the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party, with Jack McConnell later announcing his bid.[7]

The ballot was held amongst a restricted electorate of Labour MSPs and members of Scottish Labour's national executive, because there was insufficient time for a full election to be held. McLeish defeated his rival Jack McConnell by 44 votes to 36 in the race to become the second first minister.[8]

First Minister of Scotland

September 11 attacks

McLeish with President of the United States George W. Bush in the Oval Office, April 2001

McLeish was First Minister during the time of the September 11 attacks in the United States, and watched the events unfold in his office in St Andrews House, the HQ of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.[9] McLeish has spoken about his serious concern about the defence strategies in place within Scotland to protect the country from a terrorist attack of a similar nature. He initially worried about Scotland's major cities, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen being targets based on their economic strength and significance to the Scottish, UK and European economies.[9] In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, McLeish focussed on strengthening security, protection and defence systems in Scotland to ensure the country was equipped to deal with a large scale terrorist attack. McLeish lead the then Scottish Executive to working with the UK Government to ensure appropriate measures and strengthen security was in place within Scotland.[9]

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks in the United States, McLeish instructed all airports in Scotland to be on alert and tighten their security measures.[10]

On September 13, 2001, McLeish moved a motion in the Scottish Parliament to send condolences to the people of the United States and New York.[10] Through the motion, McLeish said "the Parliament condemns the senseless and abhorrent acts of terrorism carried out in the United States yesterday and extends our deepest sympathies to those whose loved ones have been killed or injured".[11]

As a Labour First Minister, and with a Labour UK Government in office at the time of the attacks under Tony Blair, McLeish initially supported the War on Terror, however stated in 2021 that he regrets that the war ultimately turned out as a "war on Islam".[9]

Governmental record

Professor John Curtice, a prominent political analyst, commented that McLeish would not have the "kind of authority" that Donald Dewar enjoyed.[8] He travelled widely, particularly in the United States. He managed several task forces designed to improve the competitiveness of Scottish industry, especially the PILOT project for Scottish oil and gas supply chains.

He was embarrassed when an open microphone recorded him with Helen Liddell in a television studio, describing Scottish Secretary John Reid as "a patronising bastard" and said of his colleague, Brian Wilson, "Brian is supposed to be in charge of Africa but he spends most of his time in bloody Dublin. He is a liability".[12]

Acts of parliament

Whilst in government serving as first minister, McLeish oversaw and implemented the free personal care for the elderly scheme[2] as well as the implementation of the McCrone Agreement for education teachers in Scotland.[1]

Officegate and resignation

Main article: Officegate

McLeish resigned as first minister in November 2001, amid a scandal involving allegations he sub-let part of his tax-subsidised Westminster constituency office without it having been registered in the register of interests kept in the Parliamentary office.[citation needed]

The press called the affair Officegate. Though McLeish could not have personally benefited financially from the oversight, he undertook to repay the £36,000 rental income, and resigned to allow Scottish Labour a clean break to prepare for the 2003 Scottish Parliament election.[13] McLeish did not seek re-election.

After politics

McLeish at a charity football match in 2011
McLeish at a charity football match in 2011

Since leaving mainstream politics, McLeish has lectured widely in the United States, particularly at the United States Air Force Academy and the University of Arkansas, where he holds a visiting professorship shared between the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Arkansas School of Law. He is considered an expert on European-American relations and on the European Union.

He has written books including Scotland First: Truth and Consequences (2004), Global Scots: Voices from Afar (with Kenny MacAskill) (2006) (published in the United Kingdom as Global Scots: Making It in the Modern World), Wherever the Saltire Flies (with Kenny MacAskill) (2006) and Scotland: The Road Divides (with Tom Brown) (2007).

In August 2007, he was appointed to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, established by the Scottish Government. He also chaired the Scottish Prisons Commission, which produced a report into sentencing and the criminal justice system in 2008 entitled "Scotland's Choice".[14] McLeish concluded a "major report" on the state of football in Scotland, which had been commissioned by the Scottish Football Association, in April 2010.[3]

McLeish claimed that Scottish football was "underachieving, under performing and under funded" at a press conference to unveil the report.[3]

In the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014, there was much media and public speculation towards whether McLeish backed a "No" vote to remain within the United Kingdom, or whether he supported a "Yes" vote in order to create an independent separate sovereign Scotland.

Speculation from the public came from media articles in which McLeish was reported to be talking negatively about the prospect of a "No" vote to remain within the union, but was later reported as stating it would be "near impossible" to vote Yes in the referendum.[15]

Following the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership, in which the majority of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but the majority of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU, McLeish has since claimed that he would support and campaign for an independent Scottish sovereign state and campaign for it to be a fully functioning member and participate fully within the European Union despite Brexit.[16] In September 2021, he reiterated that he would support independence if the union was not reformed.[17]

Titles and achievements

McLeish also holds the following positions and titles:


  1. ^ a b "Henry McLeish's statement in full". 5 September 2002. Archived from the original on 14 September 2016 – via The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b "Who have been Scotland's first ministers?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 20 May 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Major report demands changes to Scottish football". BBC Sport. 23 April 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  4. ^ Henry McLeish Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 16 March 2001.
  5. ^ HENRY McLEISH Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Newcastle Fans.
  6. ^ "Debrett's – The trusted source on British social skills, etiquette and style-Debrett's".
  7. ^ "BBC NEWS | In Depth | Donald Dewar | Henry McLeish: Campaign statement". news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b Dewar's successor to seek more power for parliament Archived 21 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 23 October 2000.
  9. ^ a b c d Ross, Calum. "Henry McLeish feared Scotland was 'at risk' as September 11 attacks unfolded".
  10. ^ a b "*". www.parliament.scot.
  11. ^ "On this 9/11 anniversary, the need to become 'patriots of humanity' has never been more important - Henry McLeish". www.scotsman.com.
  12. ^ Labour's chiefs in 'comments row' Archived 4 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine BBC News. 8 June 2001
  13. ^ "First Minister McLeish resigns". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 18 September 2016.
  14. ^ Scotland's Choice: Report of the Scottish Prisons Commission. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 1 July 2008. ISBN 978-0-7559-5772-9. Archived from the original on 23 January 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  15. ^ "Scottish independence: Henry McLeish says 'voting No has become difficult'". BBC News. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014.
  16. ^ "Henry McLeish: I will back Scottish independence if UK leave EU against Scotland's wishes". Archived from the original on 15 February 2016.
  17. ^ Learmonth, Andrew (24 September 2021). "Henry McLeish: 'Yes, I would support independence'". Holyrood Website.
Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byWillie Hamilton Member of Parliamentfor Central Fife 19872001 Succeeded byJohn MacDougall Scottish Parliament New parliamentScotland Act 1998 Member of the Scottish Parliament for Central Fife 19992003 Succeeded byChristine May Political offices New office Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning 1999–2000 Succeeded byWendy Alexander Preceded byJim WallaceActing First Minister of Scotland 2000–2001 Succeeded byJim WallaceActing Party political offices Preceded byDonald Dewar Leader of the Scottish Labour Party 2000–2001 Succeeded byJack McConnell