Dickson Mabon

Jesse Dickson Mabon PC FRSA (1 November 1925 – 10 April 2008), sometimes known as Dick Mabon, was a Scottish politician, physician and business executive. He was the founder of The Manifesto Group of Labour MPs, an alliance of moderate MPs who fought the perceived leftward drift of the Labour Party in the 1970s. He was a Labour Co-operative MP until October 1981, when he defected to the SDP. He lost his seat in 1983, and rejoined the Labour Party in 1991.

Dickson Mabon

Minister of State for Energy
In office
5 April 1976  4 May 1979
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded byLord Balogh
Succeeded byHamish Gray
Minister of State for Scotland
In office
7 January 1967  19 June 1970
Serving with Lord Hughes
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byGeorge Willis
Succeeded byBaroness Tweedsmuir
Member of Parliament
for Greenock and Port Glasgow
Greenock (1955–74)
In office
26 May 1955  9 June 1983
Preceded byHector McNeil
Succeeded byNorman Godman
Personal details
Born1 November 1925
Glasgow, Scotland
Died10 April 2008 (aged 82)
Eastbourne, England
Political partyLabour and Co-operative (Social Democratic Party 1981–91)
Elizabeth Zinn
(m. 1970)
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow

Early life

Mabon was born on 1 November 1925 in Glasgow, the son of Jesse Dickson Mabon, a butcher; and his wife, Isabel Simpson (née Montgomery). He was educated at Possilpark Primary School, Cumbrae Primary School and North Kelvinside Academy.

He worked as a Bevin Boy in the coal mining industry in Lanarkshire during the Second World War, before doing his National Service (1944–48).

He studied medicine at Glasgow University after he was demobilised. Mabon was Chairman of the Glasgow University Labour Club (1948–50), then served as Chairman of the National Association of Labour Students in 1949–50, and finally as President of Glasgow University Union in 1951–52, and of the Scottish Union of Students, 1954–55.

In 1955, he won The Observer Mace, speaking with A. A. Kennedy and representing Glasgow University. In 1995, the competition was renamed the John Smith Memorial Mace and is now run by the English-Speaking Union.

He was political columnist for the Scottish Daily Record from 1955 to 1964, and studied under Henry Kissinger at Harvard University in 1963. He was also a visiting physician at Manor House Hospital, London, 1958–64.

Parliamentary career

Mabon was the unsuccessful Labour candidate for Bute and North Ayrshire in 1951, and Labour Co-operative candidate for Renfrewshire West in 1955. He was elected as a Labour Co-operative Member of Parliament for Greenock at a by-election in December 1955, replacing Tony Benn as Labour's youngest MP. He held that seat (from 1974 Greenock and Port Glasgow) until 1983. He became a frontbench Spokesman on Health in 1962.

He was a junior minister as joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (1964–67) and was promoted to Minister of State for Scotland, 1967–70. After Labour lost the 1970 general election, he became Deputy Opposition Spokesman on Scotland, but resigned in April 1972 over Labour's position on the Common Market. Although he supported Roy Jenkins at the Labour Party leadership election in 1976, Jim Callaghan appointed him as Minister of State in the Department of Energy (1976–79), where he took charge of North Sea oil. He was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1977.

Mabon was also a Member of the Council of Europe and of the Assembly of the Western European Union, 1970–72 and 1974–76, and of the North Atlantic Assembly, 1980–82. He was Chairman of the European Movement, 1975–76 (and deputy Chairman, 1979–83), and Founder Chairman of the Manifesto Group in the Parliamentary Labour Party (1974–76), set up to counter the left-wing Tribune group.

Following Labour's defeat in the 1979 general election Mabon was tipped by The Glasgow Herald as the front-runner to succeed Bruce Millan as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, if the latter chose to move to another portfolio.[1] However the vacancy did not arise as Millan ultimately remained in the post until 1983.

Mabon defected to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in October 1981. The party was founded by the so-called "Gang of Four" in March 1981, which consisted of right-wing Labour MPs discontent with the direction of the Labour Party at the time; but Mabon later called himself a founder member of the party. He unsuccessfully contested Renfrew West and Inverclyde for the SDP in 1983 after the local Liberals refused to stand their candidate down for him in his previous seat, and fought Renfrew West again for the SDP/Alliance in 1987, and also the Lothians seat in the 1984 election for the European Parliament. Mabon was one of the SDP's negotiators in their merger attempts with the Liberals. However, Mabon concluded that the merged party was not to his liking, and he remained loyal to David Owen's continuing SDP project, which collapsed after a couple of years in 1990. After that, Mabon rejoined Labour in 1991 and became an enthusiastic supporter of Tony Blair's "New Labour" agenda.

Later life

He was chairman of SOS Children's Villages UK until 1993 and tried to get an SOS Children's Village built in Scotland first near Glasgow and then at Stirling; he was foiled by local councils who did not want the stigma of charitable help. [citation needed]

He rejoined the Labour Party in 1991, and subsequently became a member of the executive committee of Eastbourne Labour Party until 2004.

Mabon, whose first directorship had been at Radio Clyde in the 1970s, added a non-executive directorship with East Midlands Electricity to his place at Cairn; in 1992 he urged John Major's government to privatise British Coal in two halves with one going to an East Midland-led consortium including himself. He kept up his interest in medicine, in 1990 becoming president of the Faculty of the History of Medicine. Mabon was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and a Freeman of the City of London.


He married Elizabeth Zinn, an actress, in 1970. They had one son.


Mabon died on 10 April 2008, aged 82, at his home in Eastbourne.[2] He was survived by his wife and their son.


  1. Parkhouse, Geoffrey (15 June 1979). "Shore steps up as Owen is demoted". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  2. "'Mr Oil', the minister who helped launch North Sea oil industry, dies aged 82", Daily Record, Daily Record, 11 April 2008