He was born on 3 May 1837 the son of Robert Crawford of Aros on the Isle of Mull and his wife, Sibella Maclean. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy 1847 to 1854. He attended Glasgow, Oxford and Heidelberg Universities.
He was made an advocate in 1862 and from 1880 to 1885 served as Secretary to the Lord Advocate of Scotland.
In 1884 the Liberal President of the Local Government Board, Sir Charles Dilke, appointed Crawford to the Boundary Commission for Scotland, which was responsible for the redrafting of constituency boundaries in the wake of the Third Reform Act. Crawford, at the time, was the political secretary to Sir John Balfour, then the Lord Advocate. Crawford, in addition, was the distant relative of Dilke's. The Conservative Leader in the House of Commons, Sir Stafford Northcote, objected to Crawford's appointment on these grounds, noting that Crawford was "a keen Liberal with a thorough knowledge of Scotland."
Crawford entered parliament the next year as a member for Lanarkshire North-East. This was a new constituency, created by the Boundary Commission's division of Lanarkshire North into two new constituencies (the other being Lanarkshire North-West).
Crawford was firstly married to Virginia Mary Smith (1862–1948), although the marriage was brief and unhappy. In 1886 Crawford achieved much social and public notoriety when he sued her for divorce, and named Dilke as the co-respondent. After a much publicized trial Crawford obtained a decree nisi and the marriage was dissolved in 1886. As for Dilke, the scandal wrecked a promising political career. Virginia Crawford would later convert to Roman Catholicism and join the Catholic Women's League.
In old age (1914) he married the Hon Lilian Mary Susan Moncrieff.
- Dilke's younger brother Ashton Dilke married Maye Mary, Crawford's wife's sister. Robin M. Gard, ‘Crawford , Virginia Mary (1862–1948)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Mary E. J. Chadwick (September 1976). "The Role of Redistribution in the Making of the Third Reform Act". The Historical Journal. 19 (3): 665–683. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00010426., 679.
- Paula M. Kane (September 1991). ""The Willing Captive of Home?": The English Catholic Women's League, 1906-1920". Church History. American Society of Church History. 60 (3): 331–355. JSTOR 3167471. doi:10.2307/3167471., 345
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "L" (part 1)[self-published source][better source needed]
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Donald Crawford
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|New constituency||Member of Parliament for North East Lanarkshire