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George Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen

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Preceded by  Javier Solana
Preceded by  Alexander Wilson
Party  Labour Party
Prime Minister  Tony Blair
Name  George Baron
Preceded by  Michael Portillo
Role  British Politician
Siblings  John Robertson
Preceded by  Tom Clarke
Education  University of Dundee

George Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen wwwcohengroupnetimagesteamcounselorsrobertso
Leader  John Smith Margaret Beckett (Acting) Tony Blair
Books  European security in the 21st century - completing Europe's unfinished businesss

Succeeded by  Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo

George Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen

George Islay MacNeill Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, KT, GCMG, PC, FRSA, FRSE (born 12 April 1946) is a British Labour Party politician who was the tenth Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation from 1999 to 2004; he succeeded Javier Solana in that position. He served as Defence Secretary for the United Kingdom from 1997 to 1999, before taking up his NATO position and becoming a life peer as Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, of Islay in Argyll and Bute.



Early life

Born in Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Scotland, the son of a policeman, he was educated at Dunoon Grammar School and studied economics at the Queen's College, Dundee. When he was 15 years of age, he was involved with protests against US nuclear submarines docking in Scotland.

During Robertson's time at Queen's College it broke away from the University of St Andrews to become the University of Dundee, of which Robertson was one of the first graduates (MA, 1968), and one of a minority of graduates that year who opted to take a Dundee, rather than a St Andrews, degree. During his time at University he played a full part in student life. Notably he wrote a column for the student newspaper Annasach, launched in 1967, and took an active role in student protests. Robertson used his newspaper column to back the new University and encouraged his fellow students to take a University of Dundee degree (students who had started before 1967 could opt to take a degree from either the University of Dundee or the University of St Andrews).

In 1968 Robertson was one of a number of Dundee students to invade the pitch during a rugby match at St. Andrews involving a team from the Orange Free State to protest against apartheid. The same year he organised a 24-hour work-in by students in the university library in opposition to proposed cuts by the government in student grants.


Robertson married Sandra Wallace on 1 June 1970. They have two sons and a daughter.


Robertson survived a serious crash in January 1977 of his car with a Navy Land Rover, which was carrying 100 lb of gelignite and a box of detonators, and hit his car head-on in the Drumochter Pass, leaving him with two wrecked knees and a broken jaw. Robertson was wearing a seat belt at the time and attributes his survival to this factor.

Political career

Robertson first entered the House of Commons as a Labour MP and minor entity in 1978, after having won the Hamilton by-election in May 1978, caused by the death of the incumbent Labour MP Alex Wilson in March of that year. He was challenged for the seat by the SNP candidate, Margo MacDonald, who came second. Robertson retained the constituency with an increased majority and obtained 51% of the overall vote. He was re-elected to Parliament at the five subsequent general elections, was Chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland, and was appointed to the Privy Council. After Labour won the 1997 General Election, Robertson was appointed Secretary of State for Defence, a position he held until he resigned from the Cabinet in order to become Secretary General of NATO in 1999. He was appointed as NATO Secretary General after German defence minister Rudolf Scharping declined to be nominated for the position, and doubts were raised about the suitability of British politician and former Royal Marine Paddy Ashdown (at that time the outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats) due to his never having held a position in government.

Quote on devolution

In 1995, Robertson said that "Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead" while he was Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. This quote was designed to assuage fears that devolution would provide a greater platform for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Robertson's quote is frequently recalled, usually in a mocking fashion, since the SNP won Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 , 2011 and 2016.

Dunblane libel action

Robertson's three children are former pupils of the school in Dunblane where gunman Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 children and their teacher in 1996. After the massacre, Robertson, a long-time resident of the town, acted as a spokesman for the victims' families. He was also a key figure in the subsequent campaign that led to the ban on handguns in Great Britain.

In 2003, the Sunday Herald newspaper ran an article entitled "Should the Dunblane dossier be kept secret?", a reference to documents relating to the Cullen Inquiry into the massacre which are to remain classified for 100 years. In a discussion board on the newspaper's website, anonymous contributors claimed that Robertson had signed a recommendation for a gun licence for Thomas Hamilton in his capacity as Hamilton's MP. In fact, Robertson had never been the gunman's MP, and the claims were totally unfounded. Robertson sued the Sunday Herald and the paper settled by paying him a five-figure sum plus costs. A subsequent action by Robertson, related to the terms of the newspaper's apology, was unsuccessful. The first case became an important test case as to whether publishers can be held responsible for comments posted on their websites.

Independence referendum interventions

Robertson opposed Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum.

In an article in The Washington Post, he wrote: "The residual United Kingdom would still be a major player in the world, but upon losing a third of its land mass, 5 million of its population and a huge amount of credibility, its global standing would inevitably diminish."

In a speech to the Brookings Institution on 8 April 2014 he said: "The loudest cheers for the break-up of Britain would be from our adversaries and from our enemies. For the second military power in the west to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geo-political terms." Baron Robertson of Port Ellen also likened the efforts of Unionists to keep Scotland tied to the UK with those of Abraham Lincoln's fight against slavery when he stated, "they might look more relevantly at the Civil War where hundreds of thousands of Americans perished in a war to keep the new Union together. To Lincoln and his compatriots the Union was so precious, so important, and its integrity so valuable that rivers of blood would be spilt to keep it together."

After NATO

Robertson has received numerous honours (including a total of 12 Honorary doctorates from various universities). Currently he holds directorships of several notable companies in the UK, including the Weir Group, and Cable and Wireless.

In addition, he is a Senior Counsellor at The Cohen Group, a consulting firm in Washington D.C. that provides advice and assistance in marketing and regulatory affairs.


  • 1968–1978, Official of the GMB Union for the Scottish whisky industry.
  • 1978–1999, Member of the British House of Commons, member for Hamilton or Hamilton South, elected six times.
  • 1979, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Social Services.
  • 1979–??, Opposition Spokesman on Scottish Affairs.
  • 19??–82, Opposition Spokesman on Defence.
  • 1982–93, Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs.
  • 1983–93, Chief Opposition Spokesman on Europe.
  • 1993–97, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.
  • May 1997, Appointed to the Privy Council
  • May 1997 – October 1999, Defence Secretary of the United Kingdom
  • October 1999 – January 2004, 10th Secretary General of NATO and Chairman of the North Atlantic Council.
  • Other former or present posts

  • Chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland
  • Vice-chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy
  • Vice-Chairman of the British Council for nine years
  • Vice-Chairman of the Britain-Russia Centre
  • Member of the Council of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) seven years, now President
  • Member of the Pilgrims Society
  • Governor of the Ditchley Foundation
  • Trustee of the 21st Century Trust
  • Patron to the British-American Project
  • Currently serves on the Board of Cable & Wireless International
  • Currently serves on the Board of The Weir Group PLC
  • Currently serves on the Board of The TNK-BP
  • Currently serves on the Global Panel America Advisory Board
  • Currently a member of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, established in October 2009.
  • Honours and awards

  • 2003 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG)
  • 30 November 2004 Knight of the Order of the Thistle (KT)
  • Foreign Honours
  • 1991 Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 2000 Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania
  • 8 September 2003 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau
  • 12 November 2003 Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 1 December 2003 - Grand Order of King Petar Krešimir IV
  • 2004 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana
  • Organisation
  • 1993 joint Parliamentarian of the Year for his role in the Maastricht Treaty ratification
  • 2003 Atlantic Solidarity Award bestowed by the Manfred Wörner Foundation
  • 4th recipient of the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award
  • Elder Brother of Trinity House
  • Appointments
  • 24 August 1999 life peer as Baron Robertson of Port Ellen
  • Appointments

  • Member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (PC)
  • Fellowships
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE)
  • Academic
  • 5 July 2006 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Paisley
  • Honorary Doctorate from the University of Dundee
  • Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bradford
  • Honorary Doctorate from Cranfield University (Royal Military College of Science)
  • Honorary Doctorate from the Baku State University
  • Honorary military appointments

  • Honorary Regimental Colonel of the London Scottish (Volunteers)
  • References

    George Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen Wikipedia

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