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Baron Russell-Johnston

David Russell Johnston (later Baron Russell-Johnston of Minginish), the former Liberal Democrat MP and European politician, died on 27 July 2008. He was one day short of his 76th birthday.

Born in Edinburgh in 1932, he was nevertheless raised as a Highlander, according to The Guardian:

He was raised on Skye as a bilingual Gaelic speaker, was an enthusiast for shinty (a Scottish variation of hurling) and vice chief of the Camanachd Association, the sport’s governing body.

The Daily Telegraph notes that he carried his Highland associations into his political career:

In the 1964 election he captured Inverness from the Conservatives as the Liberals, failing to break through nationally, won three Highland seats. When the new House met, Johnston sported his kilt and skean dhu, making a stir then and an even bigger one when he wore them on his arrival in Strasbourg [where he was the first Liberal member of the European Parliament in 1973, when nominees were sent from national parliaments].

From the outset he was something of an iconoclast among the Westminster establishment, showing more interest in politics on the Scottish and European stage. The Times points out:

Russell-Johnston was one of the first Scottish politicians to push for Home Rule – he introduced a Private Member’s Bill to establish a Scottish parliament in 1966. He was also a supporter of the Callaghan Government’s unsuccessful Scotland Bill [introduced in 1978].

His passion for European politics eventually led him to become President of the Council of Europe Assembly (his ambition to become MEP for the Highlands and Islands was never realised). But this was partly at the expense of his influence in domestic politics, although he remained popular among his colleagues in Westminster and Scotland. Thus The Independent:

He was a committed federalist, both for the UK and for the European Community; he believed in the sharing of power among different levels of democratically accountable government, and saw no reason why this principle should stop at the water’s edge. The cry “Where’s Russell? Russell’s in Brussels” was first used against him by his constituency opponents in the 1970s, when he served as a nominated member of the European Parliament, juggling travel schedules between Inverness, London and Brussels.

It also put strain on his family life, according to The Guardian:

He was regarded with great affection by those who worked for him, both in the Commons and in the halls of European government, but it was also widely felt even by his own colleagues that he neglected his domestic interests in more ways than one, not least in his family life. One of his personal traits was to send postcards to all his friends from all over the world. Many must now have a large collection – but for his family it was not sufficient compensation for his absence. [He and his wife separated in 1997, although they remained close.]

(Baron Russell-Johnston of Minginish, born David Russell Johnston on 28 July 1932 in Edinburgh, died 27 July 2008 in Paris.)