East Fife by-election, 1961

The East Fife by-election, 1961 was a by-election held for the British House of Commons constituency of East Fife in Scotland on 9 November 1961. It was won by the Unionist candidate Sir John Gilmour.


The seat had become vacant when the sitting National Liberal Member of Parliament (MP), Sir James Henderson-Stewart had died at the age of 63 on 3 September 1961. He had held the seat since a by-election in 1933. The result at the previous election was as follows;

General Election 1959: East Fife
Party Candidate Votes % ±
National Liberal Sir James Henderson-Stewart 26,585 69.95 0.65
Labour J. Nicol 11,421 30.05 +0.65
Majority 15,164 39.90 1.30
Turnout 38,006 75.20 +2.01
National Liberal hold Swing 0.65


The Unionist candidate was 49-year-old Sir John Gilmour, an Eton and Cambridge-educated baronet who was a local farmer and land-owner, and a decorated war-hero.[1] His father, also called John, had been an MP for thirty years, serving as a minister in the 1920s and 1930s including a period as Home Secretary. Gilmour was a reluctant by-election candidate; he had stood unsuccessfully at the 1945 general election in Clackmannan and Eastern Stirlingshire, but preferred local politics and had been a member of Fife County Council since 1955. However, he was pressured to stand by the constituency association which feared the imposition of an unpopular Conservative candidate.[2]

The Labour Party candidate was John Smith, a 23-year-old law student at Glasgow University, who would later become leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Chancellor.

The Liberal Party candidate was 30-year-old Donald Leach. He contested Edinburgh West in 1959. He was the Head of Department of Mathematics at Napier College of Science and Technology. He was educated at John Ruskin Grammar School and Croydon Polytechnic.


Gilmour was elected with a reduced but still large majority, with nearly 50% of the votes.

East Fife by-election, 1961[3]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Unionist Sir John E. Gilmour 15,948 47.4 22.2
Labour John Smith 8,882 26.4 3.6
Liberal Donald Frederick Leach 8,786 26.2 N/A
Majority 7,066 21.02 18.9
Turnout 33,616
Unionist hold Swing 9.3

Gilmour was re-elected at the 1964 general election, with an increased majority over Smith,[4] and held the seat until he stepped down at the 1979 general election. Smith much later became leader of the Labour party.

See also


  1. Obituary of Sir John Gilmour, in The Independent
  2. Obituary of Sir John E. Gimour, in The Times
  3. "1961 By Election Results". Archived from the original on 2012-03-25. Retrieved 2015-08-17.


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