Donald Maclean (British politician)

Sir Donald Maclean KBE (9 January 1864 – 15 June 1932) was a British Liberal Party politician in the United Kingdom. He was Leader of the Opposition between 1918 and 1920 and served in Ramsay MacDonald's National Government as President of the Board of Education from 1931 until his death in June that following year.

Sir Donald Maclean

Leader of the Opposition
In office
14 December 1918  12 February 1920
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded byH. H. Asquith
Succeeded byH. H. Asquith
President of the Board of Education
In office
25 August 1931  15 June 1932
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byHastings Lees-Smith
Succeeded byEdward Wood
President of the Liberal Party
In office
1923  14 October 1926
LeaderH. H. Asquith
Preceded byJ. M. Robertson
Succeeded byJ. A. Spender
Member of Parliament
for North Cornwall
In office
30 May 1929  15 June 1932
Preceded byAlfred Williams
Succeeded byFrancis Acland
Member of Parliament
for Peebles and Southern Midlothian
Peebles and Selkirk (1910–1918)
In office
19 December 1910  15 November 1922
Preceded byWilliam Younger
Succeeded byJoseph Westwood
Member of Parliament
for Bath
In office
8 February 1906  10 February 1910
Preceded byEdmond Wodehouse
Succeeded byLord Alexander Thynne
Personal details
Donald Maclean

9 January 1864 (1864-01-09)
Farnworth, Bolton, Lancashire, England
Died15 June 1932(1932-06-15) (aged 68)
London, England
Political partyLiberal
Gwendolen Margaret Devitt
(m. 1907; his death 1932)

Life and career

Born in Farnworth, Bolton, Lancashire, Maclean was the eldest son of John Maclean, a cordwainer originally of Kilmoluaig, Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, and his wife Agnes Macmillan.[1] His younger brother was Sir Ewen Maclean.

Maclean practised as a solicitor with practices in Cardiff and Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. A member of the Presbyterian Church of England, he was vice-president of the Cardiff Free Church Council in 1902-3, and also worked closely with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was a last-minute choice as one of the Liberal Party candidates in Bath at the 1900 general election, but was defeated at the polls.[2] At the 1906 general election, he stood again and was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament for the constituency.[3] Whilst an MP he voted in favour of the 1908 Women's Enfranchisement Bill.[4]

He lost his seat at the January 1910 general election, but moved constituency at the December 1910 general election and was returned for Peebles and Selkirk,[5] a seat he held until 1918,[6] and then represented Peebles and South Midlothian between 1918 and 1922[6] and the Northern Division of Cornwall between 1929 and 1932.[7]

Maclean was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1916,[8] and was knighted in 1917.[9] He was Leader of the Liberal Parliamentary Party from 1918 to 1920, as the leader of the Liberal Party, H. H. Asquith had lost his seat in the House of Commons. For those two years he also served as Leader of the Opposition, while Labour had no official leader and Sinn Féin refused to participate in parliamentary government.[10]

Towards the end of his life, Maclean joined the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. He served as President of the Board of Education from 1931 to 1932.

He died from cardiovascular disease on 15 June 1932 at the age of sixty-eight.


Maclean married Gwendolen Margaret Devitt (26 September 1880 – 23 July 1962), daughter of Andrew Devitt (1850–1931) and Jane Dales Morrison (1856–1947), on 2 October 1907. They are buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Penn, Buckinghamshire, together with their eldest son, Ian. The diplomat and spy, Donald Duart Maclean, was another of his sons.


  • History of the Liberal Party 1895–1970, by Roy Douglas (Sidgwick & Jackson 1971)
  • Who's Who of British Members of Parliament, Volume III 1919–1945, edited by M. Stenton and S. Lees (Harvester Press 1979)
  1. ‘MACLEAN, Rt Hon. Sir Donald’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2007; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007 accessed 17 March 2014
  2. "The Popular Guide to the House of Commons" (Pall Mall Gazette "Extra"), February 1906, p. 48.
  3. " House of Commons: Baillieston to Beckenham". Archived from the original on 17 November 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
  5. "The Popular Guide to the House of Commons" (Pall Mall Gazette "Extra"), January 1911, p. 136.
  6. " House of Commons: Paddington to Platting". Archived from the original on 31 December 2010. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
  7. " House of Commons: Cornwall to Cynon Valley". Archived from the original on 24 September 2014. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
  8. "No. 29454". The London Gazette. 28 January 1916. p. 1117.
  9. London Gazette Issue 30250 published on 24 August 1917. Page 5
  10. Douglas in The History of the Liberal Party 1895–1970 observes that "The technical question whether the Leader of the Opposition was Maclean or William Adamson, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, was never fully resolved ... The fact that Adamson did not press his claim for Opposition leadership is of more than technical interest, for it shows that the Labour Party was still not taking itself seriously as a likely alternative government"
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Edmond Wodehouse
Sir Wyndham Murray
Member of Parliament for Bath
1906 – January 1910
With: George Peabody Gooch
Succeeded by
Lord Alexander Thynne
Sir Charles Hunter, Bt
Preceded by
William Younger
Member of Parliament for Peebles and Selkirk
December 1910 – 1918
Constituency renamed Peebles
and Southern Midlothian
New constituency Member of Parliament for Peebles and Southern Midlothian
Succeeded by
Joseph Westwood
Preceded by
Alfred Martyn Williams
Member of Parliament for North Cornwall
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Dyke Acland, Bt
Political offices
Preceded by
H. H. Asquith
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
H. H. Asquith
Preceded by
Hastings Lees-Smith
President of the Board of Education
Succeeded by
The Lord Irwin
Party political offices
Preceded by
H. H. Asquith
Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Federation
Succeeded by
John Anthony
Preceded by
John Mackinnon Robertson
President of the National Liberal Federation
Succeeded by
John Alfred Spender
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