Russell Johnston RIP

A number of senior Lib Dem figures have paid their tributes to Russell Johnston, who served the party both as an MP and peer, and in so many other ways:

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy MP said:

I was deeply saddened to learn of Russell’s passing. I have lost a great friend and mentor, going right back to my high school days, never mind later in the Houses of Parliament.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Russell changed the face of Highland politics with his completely new approach to constituency representation at that time. His ideas and initiatives were instrumental in the establishment of the original Highlands and Islands Development Board. His work kept the flame of Scottish Home Rule and Europeanism alive through their darkest hours.

“A massive political presence has passed – one which is quite irreplaceable. My heartfelt sympathies go out to Joan and to the entire family.”

Former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Lord (Jim) Wallace said:

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Russell Johnston, a friend and colleague for the best part of the last thirty years.

“It was during my last year at secondary school when I read Russell’s pamphlet ‘To be A Liberal’ and joined the Scottish Liberal Party. The core liberal values which he articulated then, together with his commitment to Scotland and Europe, still resonate today. That is why his memory will be cherished within the liberal family, at home and abroad, for a very long time to come.”

Lord Steel of Aikwood, who led the Liberal Party and served as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament added:

I am shocked at the news because Judy and I last week spent the evening with him before we left on holiday. Russell Johnston was the most powerful exponent of liberalism of his generation and a gifted orator. His three great passions to which he devoted his life were the Highlands, Scotland, and Europe”.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey & Southwark and Party President, said:

Russell Johnston was a really good mentor and ever supportive political friend. Like many, I will miss Russell very much. And the things that never changed, as all agree, were his inspirational and unwavering liberalism and internationalism. After Alan Beith, Russell was the longest serving Liberal MP since the last war. Across the Highlands, Scotland, Britain and the international Liberal family, Russell will be remembered with an affection and respect that few will ever match.

Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said:

Russell Johnston was a great Highlander, a great Liberal, and a great European. He was an inspirational figure, whose example led many, including myself, into Liberal politics in the
Highlands and across Scotland.

“Over 33 years, he worked tirelessly for the Highlands. Every week in my constituency, I meet people who were helped by Russell and who remember him with great affection. And he will
long be remembered across Europe especially for his tireless work to support democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the east after the Berlin Wall came down.

“But most of all, Russell was a Liberal. Anyone who heard or read his famous speeches can have no doubt as to the depth and relevance of his liberal philosophy, shaped by his Highland
upbringing. He was a Liberal to the core, and it is his ability to live by and express those beliefs that will long be remembered.”

Here’s the Russell Johnston biography:

Russell Johnston was born in 1932 and educated at Carbost Public School, Portree High School and Edinburgh University, where he gained an MA in History. Whilst at the University, he
refounded and was President of the Liberal Club there for a year from 1956. He was commissioned in 1958, during his National Service, into the Intelligence Corps. After that, he
was at Moray House College of Education until 1961, and taught history at the Liberton Secondary School from 1961 to 1963.

During this period, Russell also became a Member of the Scottish Liberal Party Executive, and remained so until 1994. From 1963 to 1964, Russell spent a year as a Research Assistant
for the Liberal Party, before becoming a Liberal MP in 1964, and later, as an SLD and then a Liberal Democrat MP, he served in the Commons until 1997, representing two seats – first
Inverness for 19 years, and then, Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, for fourteen years. He was Vice Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party from 1965 to 1970, and was a Member of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland from 1966 to 1969.

In the early part of Russell’s Parliamentary career, he married Joan Graham Menzies in 1967, and they subsequently had three sons – Graham, David and Andrew.

During his 33 years of service in the Commons, Russell had many spokesmanships, speaking on Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs during a number of terms. His interest in the difficulties faced by blind people led to his assuming the position of Parliamentary Spokesman for the Scottish National Federation for the Welfare of the Blind and also, for 20 years, the Parliamentary Representative for the RNIB. He was Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party from 1970 to 1974, and became Leader of the Scottish Liberal Party in 1974 – a post he held for 14 years, remaining as Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats between 1988 and 1989. From 1988 to 1992 he was also Deputy Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats.

Russell stood for the European Parliament twice, and his abiding European political interest led him to Membership of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1984. From 1994 to 1999, he was President of the Liberal & Democratic Group, and in 1999 became President of the full Assembly – a post he held for three years. In the Western European Union,
he served for the same overall period, being a Member of the Defence Committee. He was twice Vice Chairman of the latter, from 1984 – 1986, and from 2002 until the present.

Russell Johnston was awarded Grand Cross orders from three European countries – Romania, San Marino and Austria, and an Order of Merit from Albania. He received a knighthood in
1985, and was made a Life Peer in 1997, as Baron Russell-Johnston of Minginish in Highland. His publications include Highland Development; To Be a Liberal; Scottish Liberal Party Speeches (2 volumes); Humankind has no Nationality; Human Rights and Wrongs and Moral Politics. He listed his recreations as reading, watching shinty, which previously, he played, modern trams and photography.

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6 Comments

  • Russell was one of the party’s great survivors (sorry, I mean that politically). During his 9 successful election campaigns he only once polled more than 40% of the vote, and in 1992 was re-elected with only 26% of the vote.

  • I have fond memories of Russell Johnston. An hilarious taxi ride with him and Archy Kirkwood in Leeds back in the late 80s springs to mind. He was having tremendous fun mimicking another parliamentary colleague of the time. And if i remember rightly, he had an unusual hobby in which he’d post postcards to himself from everywhere he visited. A great politician and a great man. And a REAL Liberal to the core…

  • The only occasion when I was in the same room as Russell Johnston was a public meeting in West London on the subject of Europe.

    A horrible little man with on obsessive dislike of the EU by the name of Reg Simmerson came along and heckled throughout the meeting. Russell was unable to be heard and Simmerson refused to shut up for a moment. The entire event was ruined.

    Others might have turned on the guy and called him a few names, even poured pig manure over him, but Russell continued to deliver his talk, albeit partially inaudibly, refusing to let Simmerson silence him.

  • David Morton 29th Jul '08 - 2:47pm

    Met him once when he came to our University LD club when we were struggling to get MP’s. Having spent quite a bit of time with him before and after his “performance” it was clear what a nice man and real liberal he was.

  • Spanny Thomas 2nd Aug '08 - 6:59pm

    RIP Russell.

    A nice man and a true Liberal and an MP at a time when we had very very few.

  • Scott Robertson 21st Jul '10 - 8:40pm

    I had the pleasure of dining with Mr. Johnston and his son Graham who I had met while backpacking through Australia. I was visiting London and Graham introduced me to his father. Being from Canada I had no idea who Mr. Johnston was nor was I aware of his political standing. Mr. Johnston was the quintessential host and expounded on the greatness of all things Scottish whilst dining on a delicious curry meal. I was deeply saddened to learn of his passing and wish all the best to his family as they deal with his loss. I will remember Mr. Johnston as a true gentleman with a passion for political representation.

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