Born in Glasgow, the son of a tram driver, McCartney studied at John Street Senior Secondary School in the Bridgeton area of the city and at the Royal Technical College (later the University of Strathclyde) in the city centre. He joined the Independent Labour Party's Guild of Youth at the age of 14 and began a textile apprenticeship. He joined the Labour Party at 16. During World War II, he entered engineering at Rolls Royce in Coventry and for the Royal Air Force, active as a trade unionist.
In 1955, McCartney became a councillor on Kirkintilloch town council, and in 1965 a Dunbartonshire county councillor, serving on both until 1970. In 1970 he was elected to Parliament for the Clydeside seat of Dunbartonshire East, defeating Communist shipbuilders' trade union leader Jimmy Reid. McCartney too became active in supporting the Clydeside shipbuilding industry.
From 1974, McCartney represented Dunbartonshire Central, then Clydebank and Milngavie from 1983 after further boundary changes. A low-profile Member of Parliament, he was a Scottish whip and active in the TGWU and Scottish groups of Labour MPs. He retired from Parliament in 1987.
McCartney was married to fellow trade unionist Margaret, with whom he had two daughters, Irene and Margaret, and one son, Sir Ian McCartney. Ian also had a career on politics and his roles included: Minister of State for Trade, Chairman of the Labour Party and Member of Parliament for Makerfield between 1987-2010.
- "Hugh McCartney". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
- "Hugh McCartney - Obituaries - News". The Independent. 2 March 2006. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
- Andrew Roth (6 March 2006). "Obituary: Hugh McCartney | Politics". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
- "Hugh McCartney obituary". Scotsman.com. 3 March 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Hugh McCartney
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for East Dunbartonshire
1970 – February 1974
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Central Dunbartonshire
February 1974 – 1983
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Clydebank and Milngavie
1983 – 1987