John Nicolson

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John Nicolson
John Nicolson MP.jpg
Member of Parliament
for East Dunbartonshire
In office
8 May 2015 – 3 May 2017
Preceded by Jo Swinson
Succeeded by Jo Swinson
Personal details
Born John MacKenzie Nicolson
(1961-06-23) 23 June 1961 (age 57)
Glasgow, Scotland
Political party Scottish National Party
Alma mater University of Glasgow, Harvard University

John MacKenzie Nicolson[1] is a Scottish journalist and broadcaster and Scottish National Party (SNP) politician.

He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for East Dunbartonshire, elected in the 2015 general election on 7 May 2015. He was appointed SNP front bench spokesperson on Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Commons and elected a member of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.[2][3] He lost his seat in the 2017 general election. He has since resumed his career as a broadcaster and political commentator.

Early life[edit]

John Nicolson was born in Glasgow, the son of John Donald Nicolson and Marion Nicolson. His ancestry is Hebridean and Orcadian on his father's side. His mother came from Scotstoun in Glasgow. His father died of lung cancer when he was at school. Nicolson is the first generation of his family to go to university. He graduated from the University of Glasgow with a MA (Hons.) in English literature and Politics. He was awarded a Kennedy Scholarship for postgraduate study in the United States, and was Harkness Fellow in American Government at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard. He was a member of Adams House at Harvard.

As a student he was the Scottish, British Isles Observer Mace (now the John Smith Memorial Mace), and World Universities Debating Championship in the same year, winning the World Championship with his debate partner Frank McKirgan at Princeton University, New Jersey. He returned to the Glasgow University Union in 2012 to debate against other former World Universities' Championship winners on a motion welcoming Scottish independence.[4]

After Harvard, he worked as a speechwriter on Capitol Hill for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Democrat, New York) specialising in Israel-Palestine, the Irish peace process, and gun control.

Broadcasting career[edit]


While a student, John Nicolson appeared on BBC Scotland's Mr Speaker Sir - a series pitting undergraduate debaters against prominent politicians and public figures. He went on to replace Magnus Magnusson as presenter of the show.

He returned from Washington D.C. to work full time for the BBC when offered a job presenting the network 'DEF 2' youth strand discussion programme 'Open to Question' .[5]

After three series he moved to London as one of the launch reporters for the BBC's flagship Sunday politics programme On the Record He made the pivotal documentary 'A Question of Consent' for the BBC's Public Eye.[6] The documentary examined the discriminatory laws targeting gay men in the UK, and asked why the Conservative Party continued to support them.

He went on to work as a reporter for a range of high profile BBC news and current affairs shows including Panorama,[5] Assignment, and Newsnight[5]

He also presented Watchdog Healthcheck on BBC1, appeared as a panellist on Radio 4's comedy show The News Quiz and was a guest reporter on both the BBC's arts magazine The Late Show and its travel show Holiday. He was a correspondent on numerous live General Election, European Election, and Budget programmes.

Following his appointment as the lead presenter on the BBC 1's relaunched BBC Breakfast the Corporation overtook its ITV commercial rival for the first time.

He was the BBC presenter on 11 September 2001 when the Twin Towers in New York were attacked, anchoring and providing live commentary on BBC News 24 and BBC One – a broadcast which won the BBC a Foreign Press Association award for best live breaking news coverage. Of the broadcast Nicolson has said;

"My time on air seemed dream like, with hours passing in an instant, and yet individual moments seeming to linger endlessly."[7]


After more than fifteen years at the BBC, Nicolson moved to ITV as a presenter, anchoring both ITV 1 news bulletins, and the ITV News Channel show Live with John Nicolson, a three-hour morning news magazine.

Other media work[edit]

John Nicolson has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Times, The Herald, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, The New Statesman, The Daily Record and The Harvard International Review. He has written about architecture and design for World of Interiors and Elle Decor.

He appeared as himself in The Trial of Tony Blair for Channel 4.

He has worked as a radio presenter for BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 4 where he presented The Westminster Hour, and BBC Radio 5. He is a regular commentator on UK politics for American audiences on the Cumulus Media Networks radio programme The John Batchelor Show. He presented the daily breakfast 'John Nicolson and Jane Moore Show' on LBC 97.3 and has, since 2017, been host of 'The Week with John Nicolson' on TalkRadio.

He has been one of the SNP's most prominent media spokespeople in recent years with regular appearances on The Andrew Marr Show, BBC Question Time, Any Questions, This Week with Andrew Neil, Westminster Hour on Radio 4, Channel 4 News and The Wright Stuff on Channel 5.

Political career[edit]

John Nicolson joined the Scottish National Party aged 16. [8] but let his membership lapse whilst working as a BBC and ITV journalist. He rejoined the party in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum. He was a member of the National Collective, the cultural movement campaigning for Scottish independence during Scotland’s Referendum.[9]

He became an MP after winning election in the East Dunbartonshire constituency in the 2015 general election.[8]

Nicolson was appointed Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport shortly after his election. A strong supporter of public service broadcasting he led the campaign at Westminster to prevent Channel 4 from being privatised [10][11] He also campaigned for the establishment of a separate BBC Scottish 'Six O'Clock News' - a proposal which won the unanimous support of members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on which he sat. [12] The BBC subsequently announced a separate Scottish channel with a 9 o'clock news hour.[13]

Generally considered one of the highest profile and most effective members of the Committee, he used his position to cross examine the BBC Chair Rona Fairhead, revealing the unorthodox way in which she'd been appointed without due process. She withdrew her candidacy for the new BBC Board shortly afterwards. He also proposed that the BBC publish all presenter pay, arguing that it would reveal some hugely inflated salaries, a shortage of BME presenters at the top of the BBC earnings league, and a significant gender pay gap. His proposal was accepted by the DCMS Select Committee, and the Government. When BBC presenter salaries were subsequently published there was public controversy as a significant underpayment of women at the Corporation was revealed.

As a member of the DCMS Select Committee, Nicolson used the platform to talk about homophobia in sport, persuading the Committee to launch an inquiry [14] He was also actively involved in the parliamentary inquiries into "fake news",[15] the abuse of ticket sales by touts, [16] complaints against the press,[17] combating doping in sport,[18] and the impact of Brexit on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market.[19]

A vociferous opponent of Brexit, Nicolson campaigned for Scotland to remain in the Single Market.[20]

A supporter of Palestinian rights and an independent homeland for the Palestinian people, Nicolson visited Israel and the Palestine territories with Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding soon after his election.[21][22]

In 2016, Nicolson put forward a Private Member's Bill for an "Alan Turing law" which would 'pardon' retrospectively all gay men who had been convicted of offences no longer on the statute books. [23][24] The Conservative Government initially promised to support his proposed legislation, but then reversed its position following Theresa May's election as Conservative leader, causing a number of Tory MPs to condemn their own front bench as untrustworthy. Nicolson's bill was filibustered by Conservative government Justice Minister Sam Gyimah. [25]

The SNP Scottish Government subsequently announced that it would pick up and pass a Scottish version of the bill with all party support at Holyrood.

Personal life[edit]

In 1999, when he was a presenter on BBC Breakfast, Nicolson came out as gay in various newspapers. He was the first BBC network television presenter to do so.

He told the House of Commons that although the decision was tough, and not welcomed by his bosses at the BBC who were unsupportive he's glad that he did so. "I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve told me subsequently that when I came out in the papers they told their parents. Gay kids should have role models. They should know that being gay doesn’t stop you doing anything as an adult."[26]

Nicolson lives in Bearsden in East Dunbartonshire with his long-term partner Juliano Zini. He lists restoring derelict houses, skip diving, books, travel and movies amongst his hobbies in the latest edition of Who's Who?


  1. ^ "List of Members returned to Parliament at the General Election 2015 Scotland". The Edinburgh Gazette. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 3 June 2015. 
  2. ^ "SNP confirms group roles". SNP. 20 May 2015. Archived from the original on 21 May 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  3. ^ "Culture, Media and Sport Committee – membership". House of Commons. 8 July 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "Glasgow University Union debates independence". STV News. 22 November 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Cantacuzino, Maria (26 September 1999). "How we met: Krishnan Guru-Murthy & John Nicolson". The Independent. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  6. ^ "Public Eye | A Question of Consent". BBC. 29 May 1992. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Nicolson, John (9 September 2011). "9/11 anniversary: 'Suddenly there was mayhem. One of the towers was on fire'". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 6 October 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Election 2015: Who are the 56 new SNP MPs?". BBC News. BBC. 8 May 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "John Nicolson". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  10. ^ "Channel 4: 21 Jan 2016: House of Commons debates - TheyWorkForYou". TheyWorkForYou. Retrieved 2017-03-01. 
  11. ^ "Scottish MP In Fight To Save Channel 4 From Privatisation". Westsound. Retrieved 2017-03-01. 
  12. ^ "John Nicolson MP, East Dunbartonshire - TheyWorkForYou". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  13. ^ "New TV channel for BBC in Scotland". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "'Fake news' inquiry". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  16. ^ "Ticket abuse inquiry". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  17. ^ "Dealing with complaints against the press inquiry". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  18. ^ "Combatting Doping in Sport inquiry". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  19. ^ "The impact of Brexit on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market inquiry". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  20. ^ "[2nd day]: 1 Feb 2017: House of Commons debates - TheyWorkForYou". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  21. ^ "Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israeli Settlements: 9 Feb 2017: House of Commons debates - TheyWorkForYou". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  22. ^ "MP reflects on visit to the West Bank". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  23. ^ Littauer, Dan (24 September 2016). "Scots MP introduces Turing Law to quash anti-gay convictions". Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  24. ^ Devlin, Kate (29 June 2016). "SNP MP launches bid to pardon those charged under homophobic laws no longer on statute book". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2016-09-24. 
  25. ^ Worley, Will (21 October 2016). "Turing Bill filibustered by Tory minister amid row over how to pardon people convicted under scrapped anti-gay laws". The Independent. Retrieved 22 October 2016. 
  26. ^ "Diversity in Public life - by John Nicolson MP - GSM London Blog". 23 February 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2017. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Jo Swinson
Member of Parliament
for East Dunbartonshire

Succeeded by
Jo Swinson