Lord Jack McConnell

Former President, EU-African Relations Program

Former First Minister of Scotland
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The Rt. Hon. Lord Jack McConnell (born 30 June 1960 in Irvine, Scotland) was the youngest and longest serving First Minister of Scotland. He was appointed to the House of Lords in June 2010. Lord McConnell serves as Chair or Patron of a number of charities working to tackle child poverty in both Scotland and the developing world. He is a Member of the UK/Japan 21st Century Group, a Fellow of the UK/Chinese Icebreakers Group, and a guest lecturer at several Universities.

In 1983 McConnell graduated with a BSc in Mathematics and a Diploma in Education from the University of Stirling. Whilst at University he became President of the Students Association. After graduating McConnell became a Mathematics schoolteacher.

His first move into elected politics came in 1984 when he successfully ran for election to the Stirling District Council. He served in the District Council for a period of 9 years, until 1993. During this period he served as treasurer between 1986 and 1990, and in 1990 he was elected Leader of the Council, a post he held until 1992 as the youngest Leader in Scotland.

In 1992 he left teaching and Stirling District Council to become General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, a position which he held until 1998. It was during this period that Mr McConnell became a more high profile figure in Scotland and the Labour Party. He managed the Scottish election campaign which saw Labour sweep to power in 1997 and saw the Conservative party win not a single seat in Scotland.

As a strong proponent of Scottish devolution, McConnell helped push for reform. Between 1989 and 1998 he was a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, playing an important role in the creation of the Scotland Act, which created a Scottish Parliament for the first time. As General Secretary he managed the Labour Party’s successful YES YES devolution referendum campaign in 1997.

Following the successful devolution campaign and the creation of a Scottish Parliament McConnell was elected as an MSP, for Motherwell and Wishaw, in the first Scottish Parliament in May 1999. He was appointed immediately by Donald Dewar, the then-First Minister, to the post of Minister of Finance. As Finance Minister one of his primary jobs was to establish the budgeting procedures for the new Scottish government, which included consulting the public on budget priorities. As Minister responsible for External Relations he establishes Concordats with the UK Government and opened Scotland House in Brussels.

With the death of Donald Dewar in October 2000, McConnell ran for First Minister, but was narrowly defeated by Henry McLeish. First Minister McLeish then appointed McConnell to the post of Minister of Education, Europe and External Affairs. This was viewed as a particularly tricky post due to thousands of students getting the wrong exam results and pay disputes with teacher’s trade unions in the preceding year. However McConnell’s time as Minister of Education, Europe and External Affairs was a success. He negotiated a new pay and conditions package for Scottish teachers and invested heavily in improving school infrastructure. He reformed the Scottish Qualifications Authority and appointed a new board, and the following year there was no problem with exam results. In terms of European and External Affairs, he created the first External Relations and European Affairs strategy on how to influence and implement EU policies and promote Scotland abroad.

With the resignation of Henry McLeish in 2001, Jack McConnell was elected as First Minister by the Scottish Parliament in November 2001. In his first term as First Minister he began a campaign to end sectarianism, stating “we need to put sectarianism in the dust-bin of history. Scotland must play a full part in Europe and the global economy, so we cannot allow ourselves to be dragged down by the deadweight of religious hatred and sectarian bigotry”. In 2001 he was awarded the prize for Scottish Politician of the Year.

In 2003 McConnell was re-elected for another term as MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw. The Labour Party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and McConnell was chosen for a second term to become First Minister, which he undertook until 2007, making him the longest serving First Minister of Scotland. He served as President of the European Legislative Regions in 2004.

Perhaps one of McConnell’s most controversial policies was when Scotland became the first area in the UK to ban smoking in public places on 26th March 2006, but
his administration made economic growth top priority. One of his most successful programs was the Fresh Talent Initiative, aimed at increasing economic migration to Scotland. A similar program was a global campaign to promote Scotland as a place to live, work, study and visit.

In the 2007 election, McConnell remained MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw, however no longer as First Minister as the Scottish National Party won a slight majority. In 2008, Gordon Brown appointed Jack McConnell as the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Peacebuilding. This job saw him work with international organisations such as the UN and EU, creating more effective proposals for international intervention to rebuild war-torn countries.

Jack McConnell has also been heavily involved in Malawi, both officially through Scottish politics and personally. He signed a unique Co-operation Agreement in 2005. He is an adviser to the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative in Malawi and Rwanda and sits on the Activation Advisory Panel of the Global Poverty Project in New York. Lord McConnell joined the Advisory Board of ICD in 2009.