The Member for Scotland
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John Donald
Publication Date
01 June 2011
Available for Sale
Birlinn Limited
8pp b/w plates

The Member for Scotland

The Life of Duncan McLaren
by Willis Pickard - Find out more about the author

Duncan McLaren was a dominant (and at times domineering) figure in nineteenth-century Edinburgh and Scotland. Yet he has virtually disappeared from public view. ‘The Member for Scotland’ was the nickname given him at Westminster because he took up all manner of Scottish issues and initiated the campaign for a Scottish Secretary. McLaren’s political base was among the religious and political radicals of Edinburgh. As a young councillor he saved the city from bankruptcy and established free schools for poor families. He challenged the Whig lawyers who controlled Edinburgh politics, became Lord Provost and successfully sued Scotsman for libel.

From his draper’s business in the High Street he moved into railways, banking and the suburban property boom. Married to the sister of the free-trade liberal leader John Bright, he helped draft bills to reform the electoral system and voted for women’s rights. Of his nine children, three became Liberal MPs. Yet he tried to frustrate one daughter’s marriage hopes and another’s ambitions to be a doctor.

Willis Pickard graduated in history from the University of St Andrews. He was features and literary editor of the Scotsman, then for 21 years editor of the Times Educational Supplement Scotland. He was rector of Aberdeen University 1988–90 and has been a Trustee of the National Library of Scotland since 2005. He is co-author of The Political Context of Education after Devolution.