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
Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party
In office
Leader William Wolfe
Preceded by Douglas Henderson
Succeeded by Margo MacDonald
Member of Parliament
for Dundee East
In office
28 February 1974 – 11 June 1987
Preceded by George Machin
Succeeded by John McAllion
Personal details
Born Robert Gordon Wilson
(1938-04-16) 16 April 1938 (age 78)
Glasgow, Scotland
Political party Scottish National Party
Spouse(s) Edith Hassall (m. 1965)
Children 2
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
Profession Solicitor
Religion Church of Scotland

Robert Gordon Wilson (born 16 April 1938) is a Scottish politician and solicitor. He was the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) from 1979 to 1990, and was SNP Member of Parliament for Dundee East from 1974 to 1987.[1]


Wilson was born in Govan, Glasgow, the son of Elizabeth Murray and Robert George Wilson, a butcher's' van driver. He was educated at Douglas High School for Boys, on the Isle of Man, and the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree. Following graduation, Wilson qualified as a solicitor, and worked for T.F. Reid Solicitors in Paisley from 1963 until his election as an MP in 1974.[2]

Political career[edit]

Gordon Wilson joined the Scottish National Party in the late 1950s. Before his successes in electoral politics, he was co-founder and Director of Programmes of the political pirate radio station Radio Free Scotland, whose activities are described in his book, Pirates of the Air. Wilson served as Assistant National Secretary of the SNP from 1963 to 1964, as National Secretary from 1964 to 1971, and was vice-chairman of the SNP Oil Campaign Committee, which was responsible for the party's iconic It's Scotland's oil campaign. It was Wilson who coined the slogan.

Wilson was Executive Vice-Chairman 1972-1973, and stood as the SNP parliamentary candidate at the Dundee East by-election in March 1973, where he was narrowly defeated. Later that year, at the SNP Annual National Conference, he was elected as Senior Vice-Chairman (deputy leader) of the SNP, an office he held until the following June, when Margo MacDonald was elected as deputy leader.

Gordon Wilson was elected as Member of Parliament for the Dundee East constituency at the February 1974 general election,[3] and increased his majority to 6,983 at the October 1974 general election. He was the deputy leader of the SNP parliamentary group at Westminster from 1974 to 1979, and served as parliamentary spokesperson on oil and energy (1974-1983) and joint spokesperson on devolution (1976–1979). In his book, SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960–1990, he acknowledges that there were tensions between the SNP MPs in Westminster and SNP officers in Scotland, particularly Margo MacDonald.

He was one of only two SNP MPs in the aftermath of the 1979 UK general election but lost the seat in 1987 to Labour's John McAllion.[4] On 15 September 1979, at the SNP Annual National Conference in Dundee, Gordon Wilson was elected as National Convener (leader) of the SNP with 530 votes, defeating Stephen Maxwell (117 votes) and Willie MacRae (52 votes).[5] His 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.[6]

Wilson 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. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D) degree by the University of Dundee in 1986.[7] He 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.

In September 1998 he was selected by delegates at the SNP's conference as a candidate for Scotland in the 1999 European Parliament elections.[8] He was placed fourth on the SNP's list and with the SNP only winning two seats, he was unsuccessful.[citation needed]

In 2010, Wilson co-founded, and became Chairman of Solas (Centre for Public Christianity) 2010-2013, a Christian body dedicated to the revival of the faith.[9] Currently, he is Director of the 'think-tank- Options for Scotland, established in 2012, which publishes articles and papers and was particularly active during the independence referendum.

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.[10]


  • SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960-1990, 2009
  • Pirates of the Air: The Story of Radio Free Scotland, 2011
  • Scotland: The Battle for Independence, 2014


  1. ^ "Grasping the leadership thistle". BBC News Online. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Alison Rennie (16 November 2009). "Ex-SNP chief Gordon books in with fond memories of Paisley". Glasgow: Daily Record. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Clark, William (1 March 1974). "SNP lose Govan gain E. Dundee". Glasgow Herald. p. 1. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "Election 2010: Dundee East - Profile". STV. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Lynch, Peter (2002). SNP: the history of the Scottish National Party. Welsh Academic Press. p. 170.
  6. ^ "Profile: Scottish National Party". BBC News Online. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  7. ^ "Honorary Degrees". University of Dundee. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  8. ^ "SNP chooses Euro candidates". BBC News. 24 September 1998. Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "Gordon Wilson - Former trustee / Founder". Solas Centre for Public Christianity. Solas. Retrieved 2017-01-28. 
  10. ^ McKay, Girvan (2015-08-24). THE LION AND THE SALTIRE A Brief History of the Scottish National Party. Lulu.com. p. 70. ISBN 9781326400903. 

External links[edit]

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
Malcolm Shaw
National Secretary of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Muriel Gibson
Preceded by
Douglas Henderson
Senior Vice Chairman (Depute Leader) of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Margo MacDonald
Preceded by
William Wolfe
National Convener (Leader) of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Alex Salmond
Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Mackie of Benshie
Rector of the University of Dundee
Succeeded by
Malcolm Bruce