Campbell Christie, who has died at the age of 74, used his role as general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress to become a leading advocate of devolution and exponent of broad-front politics during the Thatcher-Major years. Earlier in his career, while London-based, he was – along with his brother Leslie – a leading player in radicalising the civil service unions. Sometimes touted as a left candidate for the general secretaryship of the TUC, Christie opted for a return to Scotland, where he had strong social and political roots.
He succeeded the communist Jimmy Milne as STUC general secretary in 1986. Christie was a Labour party member: for decades the position had alternated between these two political branches of the movement.
However, it became clear that Christie’s tactic was to build alliances that also reached far into civic Scotland. Union influence in Scotland had declined dramatically as the old industries disappeared and membership slumped. By creating a more diverse role for the STUC, Christie sustained its prominence in public life and became a fixture on every cross-party platform for the next 20 years.
This was particularly relevant to devolution, where Christie’s role was crucial in creating an apparently irresistible demand for the delivery of a Scottish parliament. The vehicle for this during the 1990s was the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which brought together opposition politicians (though the Scottish Nationalists stayed out), churches and other bodies. Christie helped promote a Claim of Right for Scotland, to which the convention’s members became signatories.
Christie’s “big tent” approach did not always endear him to colleagues, particularly when it conflicted with Labour’s own priorities or tactics. The STUC’s general council at one point prevented him accepting a Tory appointment to a Scottish quango. He had to withdraw his acceptance of a directorship with Guinness, whose 1986 take over of Distillers had been condemned by the STUC. His invitations to politicians of all hues to address the STUC conference drew criticisms.
However, Christie had become a large enough public figure to ride out such squalls, andretired in 1998 with a Labour government returned and his primary objective, Scottish devolution, assured. An advanced devolutionist and critic of the Scottish parliament’s failure to work in “a more consensual way”, Christie remained an opponent of independence while becoming a signatory to the Campaign for Full Fiscal Responsibility.
He was one of six children whose father, a granite blaster in a remote corner of Galloway, south-west Scotland, died at the age of 44 without access to medical care. Although the death was related to his work, there was no compensation, no pension and no financial assistance for the family he left behind.
They moved to Glasgow, and Christie joined the civil service as a clerical officer in Woolwich, south-east London, at the age of 17. When he left home, his mother handed him three envelopes – to cover his first month’s digs, travel expenses and trade union subscription. He recalled her words: “Son, I want you to have guaranteed sick pay and a pension.”
After national service, he worked with the National Assistance Board in Scotland and became active in the Civil Service Clerical Association. Through merger, this became part of the Society of Civil and Public Servants, where the two Christies became full-time officials and leading figures of the left. By 1985 and the decision to take the STUC job, Campbell was the union’s deputy general secretary.
Many of the government offices that exist in the north of England and Scotland were products of the dispersal policy he supported during the 1960s and 70s. He was appointed CBE in 1997.
As chairman of Falkirk Football Club (1993-94 and 2002-09), Christie was much valued for his unfailingly friendly nature and well-honed political skills. He is survived by his wife, Betty, whom he married in 1962, and son David, another son having predeceased him.
• Campbell Christie, trade unionist, born 23 August 1937; died 28 October 2011