Reid was born in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, to working class Roman Catholic parents; his grandparents were of mixed denomination. His grandfather was "a staunch Church of Scotland Presbyterian and his grandmother a poor and illiterate Irish peasant." His mother, Mary, was a factory worker and father, Thomas, was a postman with a passionate belief in education being the means of liberating the working classes.
Reid attributes his success to hard work and a good education. Like his successor as Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell he attended St Patrick's Secondary School, Coatbridge. The headmaster of St Patrick's, James Breen, was described as being driven by the belief that working class children could make good in their lives provided there was discipline. The teenage Reid showed an early talent for organisation and political activism by leading a strike in protest at a school rule that forced children who arrived early to school to wait outside in all weathers, including the bitter cold and wet winters. "If we weren't allowed in before 9 o'clock, we weren't going in after 9 o'clock" Reid is quoted as saying. Eventually the Headmaster conceded and the strike ended.
Leaving school at 16, Reid, decided not to go to University but instead took a series of jobs, including construction work on an oil pipeline and another in insurance. It is this latter job that Reid quotes as opening his eyes politically. He was assigned to the tenements of the East End of Glasgow after the city was hit by storms in late 1968 and saw poverty of a sort he didn't know existed: a sick infant sleeping in a wooden box, in a damp-ridden room, a distracted old woman buying coal for a tenement flat that didn't have a coal fire. Soon after this he joined the Labour Party.
It was also around this time that Reid's lifelong passion for history was kindled when his girlfriend (and later wife), Cathie McGowan, bought him a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. Reid was spellbound. Following this he attended the Open University in his mid-twenties to study a Foundation Course and then later attended the University of Stirling, gaining a BA in history and a Ph.D. in economic history, with a thesis on the slave trade written as a critique of the Marxist model of historical change, entitled Warrior Aristocrats In Crisis: the political effects of the transition from the slave trade to palm oil commerce in the nineteenth century Kingdom of Dahomey.
From 1979 to 1983 he was a research officer for the Labour Party in Scotland, and from 1983 to 1985 he was a political adviser to Labour leader Neil Kinnock. From 1986 to 1987, he was Scottish Organiser of Trade Unionists for Labour. He entered parliament at the 1987 general election as MP for the Motherwell North constituency. After boundary changes, he was returned at the 1997 election for the new constituency of Hamilton North and Bellshill; and after further boundary changes in 2005, he was returned at the 2005 election for the new constituency of Airdrie and Shotts with 59% of the vote.
Reid was married to Cathie McGowan from 1969 until her sudden death from a heart attack in 1998. In 2002 he married the Jewish Brazilian film director Carine Adler. According to The Guardian (23 September 2006) Reid arrived in the House of Commons "drunk one day and tried to force his way on to the floor to vote. When an attendant stepped forward to stop him, Reid threw a punch". Reid stopped drinking in 1994 and stopped smoking cigarettes in 2003. In May 2007 it was alleged that Reid had given up alcohol as a consequence of having harassed a fellow Labour MP in the early 1990s whilst drunk.
According to George Galloway, Reid is an accomplished singer and guitar player and "taught a whole generation of Labour activists, including yours truly, the entire IRA songbook". The claim about his musicianship is supported by the fact that, in January 2001, he was named an honorary member of the Scottish group "The Big Elastic Band" and promised to play guitar on their next album. He was an early member of Labour Friends of Israel.
Read more about this topic: John Reid, Baron Reid Of Cardowan
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