William Adamson
Adamson in 1911
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
24 October 1917 – 14 February 1921
Chief WhipGeorge Henry Roberts
William Tyson Wilson
Arthur Henderson
Preceded byArthur Henderson
Succeeded byJ. R. Clynes
Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
7 June 1929 – 24 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded bySir John Gilmour
Succeeded byArchibald Sinclair
In office
22 January 1924 – 3 November 1924
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byRonald Munro Ferguson
Succeeded bySir John Gilmour
Member of Parliament
for West Fife
In office
19 December 1910 – 8 October 1931
Preceded byJohn Deans Hope
Succeeded byCharles Milne
Personal details
Born2 April 1863 (1863-04-02)
Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland
Died23 February 1936 (1936-02-24) (aged 72)
Political partyLabour

William Adamson (2 April 1863 – 23 February 1936) was a Scottish trade unionist and Labour politician. He was Leader of the Labour Party from 1917 to 1921 and served as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1924 and during 1929–1931 in the first two Labour ministries headed by Ramsay MacDonald.


Adamson was born in Dunfermline, Fife, and was educated at a local dame school. He worked as a miner in Fife where he became involved with the National Union of Mineworkers. In 1902–08 he was Assistant Secretary of the Fife and Kinross Miners' Association,[1] and he thereafter served as its General Secretary.[2]

Political career

Adamson in 1920

Active with the new Labour Party, Adamson was first elected to Parliament for West Fife in the December 1910 general election.[3][4] His victory was the only Labour gain from the Liberals in that election.[5]

Adamson was elected Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party on 24 October 1917, a post he held until 1921.[1] He led the party into the general election of 1918, which saw Labour gain 15 seats and become the largest opposition party in the House of Commons for the first time; however, there remained uncertainty as to whether Adamson or the leader of the independent Liberals, Donald Maclean could claim to be the true leader of the opposition in the Commons.

In 1918 he was sworn into the Privy Council.[6] In 1919, Adamson was confident that the experience of the First World War would "produce a different atmosphere and an entirely different relationship amongst all sections of our people" and would act as a watershed in the process of social reform.[7] He served as Secretary for Scotland and Secretary of State for Scotland in 1924[1][8] and between 1929 and 1931[1][9] in the Labour governments of Ramsay MacDonald.

However, he split with MacDonald after the formation of the National Government. Adamson lost his seat in the 1931 election which he contested for Labour against MacDonald's coalition.[1] He stood again in the 1935 election but again failed to take the seat, losing on this occasion to William Gallacher of the Communist Party of Great Britain.[2]

Personal life

The grave of William Adamson MP, Dunfermline Cemetery

Adamson was married to Christina Myles Marshall (1862–1935), a factory worker, with whom he had two daughters and two sons; one of the latter was killed during the First World War.[2]

Adamson died in February 1936, aged 72. He is buried in Dunfermline Cemetery, just north of the roundel at the end of the entrance avenue.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e Spartacus-educational.com William Adamson Archived 14 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c David Howell, Adamson, William [Willie] (1863–1936), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. ^ leighrayment.com House of Commons: Fairfield to Fylde South[Usurped!]
  4. ^ "No. 28449". The London Gazette. 23 December 1910. p. 9558.
  5. ^ Blewett, Neal (1972). The Peers, the Parties and the People: the General Elections of 1910. Macmillan. pp. 264–265.
  6. ^ "No. 30764". The London Gazette. 25 June 1918. p. 7461.
  7. ^ Philip Abrams Past & Present, The Failure of Social Reform, 1918–1920’ (1963), p.49
  8. ^ "No. 32901". The London Gazette. 25 January 1924. p. 770.
  9. ^ "No. 33505". The London Gazette. 11 June 1929. p. 3856.
Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byJohn Hope Member of Parliament for West Fife Dec. 19101931 Succeeded byCharles Milne Party political offices Preceded byArthur Henderson Leader of the British Labour Party 1917–1921 Succeeded byJ. R. Clynes Political offices Preceded byThe Viscount Novar Secretary for Scotland 1924 Succeeded bySir John Gilmour Preceded bySir John Gilmour Secretary of State for Scotland 1929–1931 Succeeded bySir Archibald Sinclair Trade union offices Preceded byJohn Weir General Secretary of the Fife and Kinross Miners' Association 1908 – 1917 Succeeded byJames Cook Preceded byJohn Robertson Treasurer of the Scottish Miners' Federation 1914 – 1922 Succeeded byEdward Hawke