George Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen

The Right Honourable
The Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
10th Secretary General of NATO
In office
14 October 1999  5 January 2004
Preceded by Javier Solana
Succeeded by Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo (Acting)
Secretary of State for Defence
In office
3 May 1997  11 October 1999
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Michael Portillo
Succeeded by Geoff Hoon
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
21 October 1993  2 May 1997
Leader John Smith
Margaret Beckett (Acting)
Tony Blair
Preceded by Tom Clarke
Succeeded by Jacqui Lait (2001)
Member of Parliament
for Hamilton South
Hamilton (1978–1997)
In office
31 May 1978  24 August 1999
Preceded by Alexander Wilson
Succeeded by William Tynan
Personal details
Born George Islay MacNeill Robertson
(1946-04-12) 12 April 1946
Port Ellen, Scotland
Political party Labour
Alma mater University of Dundee

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, between October 1999 and early January 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 Britain.[1]

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.[2][3] 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.[2][4][5] 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).[5]

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.[6] 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.[6]


Lord Robertson married Sandra Wallace on 1 June 1970. They are the parents of three children.


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.[7] 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.[8][9][10]

Quote on devolution

In 1995, Robertson said that "Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead" while he was Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.[11] 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[11][12] and 2011.[13][14]

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.[15]

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.[16][17]

Independence referendum interventions

Lord Robertson issued warnings about the consequences for the UK if Scotland had voted 'Yes' in the Scottish independence referendum, 2014.

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."[18]

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."[19] 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." [20]

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,[21] and Cable and Wireless.

In addition, Lord Robertson 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.


Other former or present posts

Honours and awards

Foreign Honours



Honorary military appointments



  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2008.
  2. 1 2 "General Election Special 2". Archives Records and Artefacts at the University of Dundee. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  3. "Student protests at Dundee". Archives Records and Artefacts at the University of Dundee. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  4. "Making Contact. 12 decades of staff and student magazines" (PDF). Contact: 27. June 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  5. 1 2 Baxter, Kenneth, Rolfe, Mervyn and Swinfen, David (2007). A Dundee Celebration. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 34.
  6. 1 2 Baxter, Kenneth, Rolfe, Mervyn and Swinfen, David (2007). A Dundee Celebration. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 35.
  7. NATO (6 January 2004). "NATO Secretary General (1999–2003) The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen". Who is who at NATO?. NATO. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  8. Fitchett, Joseph (15 July 1999). "Paddy Ashdown of Britain Is Seen by Some As Leading Candidate for Secretary-General : Hunt for NATO Chief Moves Into New Phase". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  9. Ulbrich, Jeffrey (16 July 1999). "Secretary-general sought by NATO". Associated Press. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  10. Whitney, Craig R. (31 July 1999). "Britain Nominates Its Defense Secretary to Be Head of NATO". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
  11. 1 2 Warner, Gerald (6 May 2007). "How Bulldog Brown could call Braveheart Salmond's bluff". Scotland on Sunday. Johnston Press. Retrieved 2007-05-06.
  12. Devine, Tom (11 May 2008). "Old Scotland took the high road. New Scotland is upwardly mobile". The Independent. London. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
  13. Watt, Nicholas (6 May 2011). "Tony Blair's Scottish nightmare comes true as Alex Salmond trounces Labour". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  14. "Q&A: Scottish independence referendum". BBC News. BBC. 29 May 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2011. The 2011 result has blown out of the water the claim once made by Labour veteran Lord Robertson that devolution would "kill nationalism stone dead" - ironically, Labour, the party which set up devolution - has never managed to gain the overall majority achieved by the SNP.
  15. "UK Politics | Robertson driven by 'a safer world'". BBC News. 1999-08-04. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  16. McDougall, Dan (October 2005). "Robertson sues over Dunblane killer allegations". The Dunbane Shootings and Gun Law. Martin Frost. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  17. Thompson, Bill (10 September 2004). "Be careful what you say on the net". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  18. Robertson, George (2014-01-05). "Scotland secession could lead to re-Balkanization of Europe". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  19. "Scottish independence: Lord Robertson says Yes vote 'would be cataclysmic'". BBC News. 2014-04-08. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  20. Fred Dews (2014-04-07). "Lord George Robertson: Forces of Darkness Would Love Scottish Split from United Kingdom | Brookings Institution". Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  21. "The Weir Group | Solutions. Engineered". Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  22. Borger, Julian (8 September 2009). "Nuclear-free world ultimate aim of new cross-party pressure group". The Guardian. London.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alexander Wilson
Member of Parliament
for Hamilton

Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Hamilton South

Succeeded by
William Tynan
Political offices
Preceded by
Tom Clarke
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
Title next held by
Jacqui Lait
Preceded by
Michael Portillo
Secretary of State for Defence
Succeeded by
Geoff Hoon
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Javier Solana
Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Succeeded by
Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo
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