Russell Johnston

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For other people named Russell Johnston, see Russell Johnston (disambiguation).
Russell Johnston (right) shares a joke with David Steel at the Liberal Party Assembly in 1987

David Russell Russell-Johnston, Baron Russell-Johnston (born David Russell Johnston; 28 July 1932 – 27 July 2008),[1] usually known as Russell Johnston, was a leading Scottish Liberal Democrat politician and was the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Party from 1974 to 1988.

Early life[edit]

David Russell Johnston was born in Edinburgh and educated at Portree High School on the Isle of Skye. He later attended Edinburgh University (graduating with a Master of Arts in history in 1957) and Moray House College of Education, before working as a schoolteacher.[citation needed]

In 1961, he won The Observer Mace, speaking with David Harcus and representing The University of Edinburgh. In 1995, the competition was renamed the John Smith Memorial Mace and is now run by the English-Speaking Union.[citation needed]

Political career[edit]

He was elected to the House of Commons and represented Inverness for the Liberal Party (1964–83) and Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Liberal Party (1983–88) and for the Liberal Democrats (1988–97). He also served as leader of the Scottish Liberal Party and as deputy leader of the [2] Liberal Democrats (1988–92). In October 1966, he proposed a bill of federal law in order to deal with the Scotland and Wales case.[citation needed]

Johnston was knighted in 1985.[3]

In the 1992 election, he made history by holding his seat with just 26% of the vote in a close four-way battle with Labour, the SNP, and the Conservatives. At the time, this was the lowest ever winning percentage for a candidate, until being superseded by Belfast South at the 2015 election. Upon his retirement from the House of Commons in 1997, he was created a life peer as Baron Russell-Johnston of Minginish in Highland, changing his surname by deed poll to allow his forename to be incorporated into his title.[3]

He was member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly from 1985 to his death in 2008,[4] leading the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE-PACE) from 1994–99, and sitting as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1999 until 2002. In 2003 Alija Izetbegović described him as "a great friend of Bosnia."[5]

Personal life[edit]

Johnston married Joan Graham Menzies in 1967. They had three sons. At the time of his death, Lord and Lady Russell-Johnston had been estranged for over ten years, but remained close to one another.[6]

Lord Russell-Johnston died on the eve of his 76th birthday. He had been suffering from cancer, for which he was receiving chemotherapy, but had continued to work on human rights issues for the Council of Europe. He collapsed and died in a street in Paris.[6]


  1. ^ "Former Scots Liberal leader dies". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 27 July 2008. 
  2. ^ ALDE-PACE Group; accessed 12 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Liberal Democrat Lord Russell-Johnston dies on eve of 76th birthday". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. Retrieved 28 July 2008. 
  4. ^ Profile, Council of Europe website; accessed 12 February 2016.
  5. ^ Inescapable Questions (2003), page.424.
  6. ^ a b "Tributes as ex-Liberal leader dies in street". The Scotsman. Retrieved 28 July 2008. 


  • Obituary,, 29 July 2008; accessed 12 February 2016.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Neil McLean
Member of Parliament for Inverness
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber
Constituency abolished
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Mackie, Baron Mackie of Benshie
Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Menzies Campbell
Preceded by
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Malcolm Bruce
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Preceded by
Alan Beith
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
Deputy Leader of the Social Democratic Party
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Alan Beith
Preceded by
George Mackie, Baron Mackie of Benshie
as President of the Scottish Liberal Party
President of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Leni Fischer
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Succeeded by
Peter Schieder