Gordon Wilson (Scottish politician)

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Gordon Wilson
Leader of the Scottish National Party
In office
15 September 1979 – 22 September 1990
Preceded by William Wolfe
Succeeded by Alex Salmond
Personal details
Born (1938-04-16) 16 April 1938 (age 76)
Glasgow, Scotland
Political party Scottish National Party
Spouse(s) Edith Wilson
Children 2
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
Profession Solicitor

(Robert) Gordon Wilson (born 16 April 1938) is a former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP). He followed William Wolfe as SNP leader,[1] and was himself succeeded by Alex Salmond in 1990.[2]

Wilson was also a Member of Parliament for the Dundee East constituency for several years. He was narrowly defeated in a 1973 by-election, and won it at the February 1974 general election. He was one of only two SNP MPs during after the 1979, but lost the seat in 1987 to John McAllion of the Labour Party.[3]

In his book, SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960-1990 (2009), he acknowledges that there were tensions between the SNP MPs in Westminster and SNP officers in Scotland, particularly Margo MacDonald.

Wilson's leadership was characterised by mixed fortunes. He was leader in the early 1980s when the party was in internal turmoil, and he was a key mover in condemning both Siol nan Gaidheal and the 79 Group.[4] He also led the party through two poor general election performances in 1983 and 1987. However, a highlight of his leadership was the Govan by-election victory in 1988.

Wilson attempted to involve the SNP in the Scottish Constitutional Convention but due to the convention's unwillingness to contemplate discussions about Scottish independence as a constitutional option the SNP did not get involved.

Wilson can be characterised as a pragmatic SNP nationalist, although of the old style rather than the new breed who tend to be firmly on the left of the Party, with Wilson being more moderate in opinion.

Before his successes in electoral politics, Wilson was the Director of Programmes for a time of the political pirate station Radio Free Scotland – whose activities are described in Pirates of the Air (2011). In his early days in the Party, he was National Secretary for eight years and the originator of the iconic SNP ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ Campaign which contributed to the Party’s electoral breakthrough when it secured 7 and then 11 Westminster MPs in the successive General Elections of 1974.

In 2010, Wilson co-founded, and became Chairman of Solas (Centre for Public Christianity), a Christian body dedicated to the revival of the faith. In that capacity, he co-wrote (2011) a Submission to the Scottish Government against the redefinition of marriage to include same sexes and more recently (2012) at a meeting of Scotland for Marriage warned that the legislation could not protect the human rights of public servants such as school teachers who could be dismissed from their jobs. Parents if they had conscientious objections to same sex marriage would have no right to remove their children from classes on the topic. If equality law were used by zealots to penalise objectors, then it would override human rights to free speech and freedom of conscience. Controversially, he declared that the future use of coercive powers of the state to this end could be a step towards fascism.

Gordon Wilson’s papers are held variously by the National Library of Scotland, Archive Services at the University of Dundee and the Scottish Political Archive at the University of Dundee. His collection of historical nationalist pamphlets is held by the Macartney Library at SNP headquarters in Edinburgh.


SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960-1990 (2009)

Pirates of the Air (2011)


  1. ^ "Former SNP leader Billy Wolfe dies". The Daily Telegraph. 2010-03-19. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  2. ^ "Grasping the leadership thistle". BBC News Online. 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  3. ^ "Election 2010: Dundee East - Profile". STV. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  4. ^ "Profile: Scottish National Party". BBC News Online. 2010-04-05. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Machin
Member of Parliament for Dundee East
Feb 19741987
Succeeded by
John McAllion
Political offices
Preceded by
William Wolfe
National Convener (Leader) of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Alex Salmond
Preceded by
Douglas Henderson
Senior Vice Chairman (Deputy Leader) of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Margo Macdonald
Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Mackie of Benshie
Rector of the University of Dundee
Succeeded by
Malcolm Bruce