Iain McNicol

Former General Secretary of the Labour party; now a member of the House of Lords.

It’s unlikely that many General Secretaries of the Labour Party had to deal with as much in as short a period of time as Iain McNicol.

He held the role between 2011 and March 2018, and during that time oversaw two general elections, the Scottish Independence referendum, the EU referendum and of course two leadership elections.

Phew.

His time in the position may be over, but his time in politics is far from done and he’s now being inducted into the House of Lords.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (as he’s now formally known) graduated from the former Dundee Institute of Technology in 1991, which would go on to become Abertay University.

We’ve caught up with Iain to see how he feels about it all.

How does it feel to be going into the House of Lords?

It feels good!

I was General Secretary of the Labour party for 7 years and that job was all-consuming. We had two general elections, two referendums, two leadership elections, three high court cases. I had to deal with a multitude of issues and problems. But the job was fantastic. It was an amazing opportunity.

I suppose my biggest regret is that we never won a General Election because that’s the bit that makes a difference, winning power and being able to change the country.

But I’m really looking forward to it.

So what was your time like at the college?

I had a lovely time. It was Dundee Institute of Technology when I came. I did a three-year HND in Building Management and I was elected president of the student union.

Actually, in my final year we took a couple of busloads down to lobby the Westminster government to try and get the college upgraded to university status.

We managed to make that argument, and obviously the college did too and it was turned into Abertay University.

How politically active were you while you were here?

Well, it was quite a political time. We were nine years into a Thatcher government, there was the poll tax and there was South Africa – Mandela was still in jail at that point.

There was also quite a lot of talk about student loans coming in.

So I WAS politically active but I was doing a very unpolitical course in building management!

When did you get involved with the Labour party?

I actually joined the party before I came to college. I was 16 and I was in West Kilbride. It wasn’t a particularly political place but my family had quite strong political views. We used to sit around the table and talk would often turn to politics.

The reason I joined at 16 is still valid now, 32 years later. I wanted to be part of one of the forces that could change the country and change the world and I always wanted to make a difference. 

It’s just great to see Abertay being internationally renowned for some of the work and courses that it does.
Iain McNicol | Member of the House of Lords

How important was your time at the college in helping you get to where you are now?

When I was elected president I started doing more and more work with Scottish Labour students and NUS Scotland. That brought me into contact with student politicians who ended up becoming good friends.

We were obviously approaching to the 1992 general election and I was doing more campaigning work which I really enjoyed.

We were running campaigns at a Scottish level and not just an Abertay or Dundee level. Getting involved with that led to me getting involved with a national – a UK wide – group of Labour students.

What do you think of what Abertay has become?

I had the opportunity 5 years ago when the Scottish Labour party conference was in Dundee to come back and meet with the principal.

I arranged a visit and toured the student union and went round some of the new facilities. It was just fantastic to see.

Now one of my friend’s kids has got onto a gaming course and it’s a highly sought after course at Abertay. It’s just great to see Abertay being internationally renowned for some of the work and courses that it does.

What advice would you have to our students?

If you want anything just go for it and give it everything you’ve got. It may or may not work out, but at least you can look back and say ‘I gave it my best shot.’

So go for it. And do the stuff that makes you happy - we’re here for such a short time. So that would be my advice.  

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