Brian Wilson (Labour politician)

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For other people named Brian Wilson, see Brian Wilson (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Brian Wilson
Member of Parliament
for Cunninghame North
In office
11 June 1987 – 5 May 2005
Preceded by John Corrie
Succeeded by Constituency Abolished
Personal details
Born (1948-12-13) 13 December 1948 (age 66)
Dunoon, Scotland
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Dundee, Cardiff University

Brian David Henderson Wilson[1] (born 13 December 1948 in Dunoon, Scotland) is a politician in the United Kingdom. He was Labour Party Member of Parliament from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003 (Scottish Office 1997–1998, Department of Trade and Industry 1998–1999, Scottish Office 1999–2001, Foreign Office 2001 and Energy Minister, DTI 2001–2003). After standing down as a Minister prior to his departure from Parliament, he was asked by Tony Blair to act as the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Overseas Trade.

Early life[edit]

Educated at Dunoon Grammar School, the University of Dundee and University College, Cardiff, Wilson was the founding editor and publisher of the West Highland Free Press which he established along with three friends from Dundee University. Founded in 1971, the newspaper was initially based at Kyleakin, on the isle of Skye, and continues to be published from Broadford, Skye. Its uniqueness lay in the radicalism of its political content, particularly on matters relating to the ownership of land, and its role as a local newspaper. It is credited with having exerted a strong influence over political debate in the Highlands and Islands, and—along with other concurrent initiatives such as the 7.84 production, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil and publication of John MacEwen's book Who Owns Scotland?—restoring the land question to a place of prominence in Scottish politics. For his early work on the West Highland Free Press, Wilson was made the first recipient of the Nicholas Tomalin Memorial Award. He also wrote widely for national newspapers and, in 1977–78 he was involved in Seven Days, a political weekly in Scotland which folded after a few months.

He was a member of the Scottish National Party for a short time in his teens, but shortly after the formation of the West Highland Free Press in 1971 joined the Labour Party and was soon invited to stand as its candidate in Ross and Cromarty which he contested in October 1974. He stood in two other Highlands and Islands constituencies—Inverness-shire and the Western Isles—in 1979 and 1983 respectively. An opponent of devolution, which he believed would work to the disadvantage of Scotland's more peripheral areas, in 1978 he was chairman of the "Labour Vote No Campaign", which called for a "no" vote in the Scottish devolution referendum, 1979 on whether to have a Scottish Assembly.

Parliament[edit]

Wilson was selected to fight a more winnable seat and was elected to serve Cunninghame North constituency in 1987, winning the seat from the Conservative Party, and successfully held the seat in the 1992, 1997 and 2001 general elections. In opposition, Wilson was spokesperson on election planning (1996–1997), trade and industry (1994–1995), transport (1992–1994 and 1995–1996)—where he was recognised as an effective Parliamentary opponent of rail privatisation— and on Scottish affairs (1988–1992).

In his first ministerial role, as Scottish Office Minister for Education and Industry, he had responsibility for the Highlands and Islands which allowed him to deliver on some of the issues that he had campaigned for over a long period. He established the Community Land Unit and the Fund on which community buy-outs of crofting estates was based. He was Scotland's first designated Minister for Gaelic, initiating the process that led to the establishment of a Gaelic television channel. Along with the Irish President, Mary Robinson, he launched Iomairt Cholm Cille in an effort to bring closer together the Gaelic-speaking communities of Scotland and Ireland. As Scottish Education Minister, he took a particular interest in Special Educational Needs and established the Beattie Committee to bring forward proposals, many of which were subsequently introduced, to improve post-school provision and strengthen SEN links with Further Education colleges. As Energy Minister, he was a strong supporter of both renewable energy—which he had long championed as a journalist—and nuclear power, not least because of his familiarity with Hunterston nuclear power stations in his own constituency. According to one's point of view,he is either credited or blamed for doing more than any other politician to "keep the nuclear option open" through the early years of the Labour government, when many of his colleagues were determined to kill it off once and for all in Britain. As Energy Minister, Wilson always advocated what he termed a "balanced" power generation policy—including nuclear, "clean coal", natural gas and renewables—which eventually became the catch-phrase of government after his departure. Speaking at the Institute of Civil Engineers in June 2008, he joked that if he had remained in politics, he would have been "knocked down in the rush" as his former foes on the nuclear issue—including the likes of Gordon Brown and Margaret Beckett—adopted the same position.

As trade minister, Wilson took a great deal of interest in Cuba which he visited on a number of occasions in an effort to improve political and trade links. He has written extensively in defence of Cuba and about his meetings with Fidel Castro. Writing in the Guardian about Castro's decision to step down as Cuban President, Wilson said that he had "outwitted the United States and its 50-year obsession one last time" by ensuring an orderly transition in government while he was still alive. Also while trade minister, Wilson was closely involved in defending the Scottish cashmere industry in the face of hostile trade measures by the United States during the so-called "Banana Wars" (1999–2000).

In August 2004 he announced his intention to step down from politics at the 2005 General Election, when the Cunninghame North constituency was replaced by the new North Ayrshire and Arran seat, created in the boundary changes to Scottish constituencies in the Westminster Parliament.

Current work[edit]

A former politician, Wilson holds directorships in a number of energy related businesses and continues to publicly comment on UK government energy policy, particularly on the subject of nuclear power, which he is a supporter of, and has written opinion pieces in national newspapers as well as appearing on television news programmes to air his views. Both as Energy Minister and subsequently, he has called for Britain to retain a balanced energy policy with contributions to our electricity needs from nuclear, renewables, clean coal and gas. He is also chair of Flying Matters which advocates a pro-aviation response to climate change. In April 2008, Wilson became a Visiting Professor in Media and Government at Glasgow Caledonian University. In September 2009, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of the Highlands and Islands. Since May 2009, he has been chair of Britain's Energy Coast, the economic development agency for West Cumbria.

He has been closely identified with regeneration of the Harris Tweed industry in the Isle of Lewis,where he lives, and is chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides who were named Textile Brand of the Year at the Vogue.com Scottish Fashion Awards in both 2009 and 2011 as well as UK Textile Company of the Year at the UK Fashion and Textile Awards in 2013. He is also a director of Celtic Football Club, who he has supported since childhood. Wilson wrote Celtic's official centenary history (Celtic, A Century With Honour, Collins Willow 1988) and more recently the Official History of Celtic to mark the club's 125th anniversary. Having maintained connections with Cuba, he is now chairman of Havana Energy, a UK-based company promoting renewable energy in Cuba which has secured the first ever joint venture with the Cubans to build power stations fuelled by biomass from the sugar plantations. For his work with Harris Tweed Hebrides, Wilson was named Global Director of the Year at the Institute of Directors Scottish awards ceremony in February 2011. He was then named UK Global Director of the Year at IoD Awards in September 2011. Maintaining his long-standing interest in land reform, he is a director of Community Land Scotland, formed in 2010 as an umbrella body for community-owned estates covering 500,000 acres, mainly in the West Highlands and Islands. In2013, he became a UK Business Ambassador and was asked by the Secretary of State for Scotland to carry out a review of Scottish exporting, due to be published in early 2014. He writes regular columns in The Scotsman and West Highland Free Press as well as contributing to other publications.

Positions held[edit]

Chair of Harris Tweed Hebrides

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Corrie
Member of Parliament for Cunninghame North
19872005
Constituency abolished