Hugh McCartney 1920-2006

Hugh McCartney, engineer and politician; born January 3 1920; died March 1 2006
Hugh McCartney had his roots in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow, one of the strongholds of the Independent Labour party, which he joined as a 13-year-old. He was an authentic working-class representative with a particular interest in health and safety at work, fired by the industrial accident that had maimed his father.

He became an MP after Alec Ferry, the candidate for Dunbartonshire East, withdrew unexpectedly to concentrate on what became a distinguished career in the Amalgamated Engineering Union. As a leading figure in local government in the constituency, McCartney stepped in – and soon found himself embroiled in the cause célèbre of industrial Scotland in the early 1970s, Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

His trade union experience made him an effective ally of the Clydebank workforce, but he was more of a behind-the-scenes operator than a charismatic front man. There was therefore a widespread, if poorly founded, media expectation that Jimmy Reid, one of the UCS leaders, would build on his celebrity by winning McCartney’s seat, which included Clydebank, as a Communist at the February 1974 general election.

There was never much chance of this happening, and Reid finished a distant third. Following the declaration, he denounced the Labour campaign as “falangist” – an insult likely to have passed over the heads of most voters. He tried, again unsuccessfully, to unseat McCartney at the October election that year and soon joined the Labour party.

McCartney had one of the keenest ears in Labour politics for the mood of the voters, a talent used to particularly good effect in byelections. After his stint as Scottish whip (1979-83), he served as a chairman of committees in the Commons. Having retired from parliament in 1987, he remained active in community and union affairs – and watched with pride as his son’s career within the Labour party progressed.