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William 'Willie' Ross, Baron Ross of Marnock MBE (7 April 1911 – 10 June 1988) was the longest serving Secretary of State for Scotland, holding office from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976, throughout the Prime Ministership of Harold Wilson.

Born in Ayr, the son of a train driver, he was educated at Ayr Academy and the University of Glasgow and became a schoolteacher before World War II. He served in the Highland Light Infantry in India, Burma and Singapore and was then a major in Lord Louis Mountbatten's headquarters in what was then Ceylon.

Ross unsuccessfully contested Ayr Burghs at the 1945 general election.

He was then elected Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock constituency in a by-election in 1946, and represented that constituency until the 1979 general election, when he was created a life peer as Baron Ross of Marnock, of Kilmarnock in the District of Kilmarnock and Loudoun.

In 1954 Ross placed an amendment to the Bill on the licensing of commercial television advocating a ban adverts on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.

During his time as Secretary of State for Scotland, he was responsible for the creation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Scottish Development Agency, the forerunners of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.

Ross campaigned for a "No" vote in the 1975 referendum on British membership of the EEC.[1] He was also a firm unionist, in favour of Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom, and opposed devolution. Andrew Marr called him 'a stern-faced and authoritarian Presbyterian conservative who ran the country like a personal fiefdom for Harold Wilson'. Ross coined the term 'Tartan Tories' to describe the members of the Scottish National Party, whom he very much disliked; he was himself nicknamed "the hammer of the Nats" for his many attacks on them.

"Willie" Ross was occasionally depicted by newspaper cartoonists as a boy in dungarees seated on an upturned bucket - i.e. as Oor Wullie.


  1. ^ David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger, The 1975 Referendum (London: Macmillan, 1976), p. 179.


Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Clarice Shaw
Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock
Succeeded by
Willie McKelvey
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Noble
Secretary of State for Scotland
Succeeded by
Gordon Campbell
Preceded by
Gordon Campbell
Secretary of State for Scotland
Succeeded by
Bruce Millan


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