Speirs joined the STUC as an assistant secretary in 1979, the year that Margaret Thatcher swept to power and initiated a series of reforms that transformed the trade union movement, not least in Scotland. The next decade was therefore difficult, with union membership declining

while the STUC fought to maintain its influence.

In 1988, Speirs was appointed Campbell Christie’s

deputy general secretary, and quickly established himself as his successor. He was also a leading light in Scottish Labour Action, a left wing, Nationalist-inclined group which had grown out of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee. Speirs, therefore, was as steeped in the Labour Party as he was in the broader labour movement.

“He was seen as Campbell Christie’s wee laddie,” recalled the journalist and STUC

historian Keith Aitken, “but often Campbell used Bill to take a more radical approach than he felt comfortable with. On the anti-Poll Tax campaign, for example, and during the Scotland United movement.

“This was at a time when the Labour Party thought the STUC’s line should follow its own.”

Indeed, during the bitter campaign against the community charge both Speirs and Christie refused to pay their bills, as did many senior STUC figures, contrary to Labour policy.

Christie even made great play of dithering over

whether or not to sign an authorisation form, as chief official, to deduct the money from his and Speirs’ wages.

Both were also criticised by some STUC general council members for their involvement – following the 1992 general election – in Scotland United, the cross-party movement which aimed to reconcile

Nationalists with less radical home rulers.

When Labour U-turned in 1996 and decided to argue for a two-question devolution referendum (the second on tax-raising powers), a pamphlet written by Speirs criticised it as the worst wrecking device since the 40% rule in 1979.

That critique later proved mistaken, although Speirs also subtly criticised another Labour pledge not to raise taxes in Scotland even should the power be affirmed in the referendum.

“The STUC cannot speak on behalf of the Labour Party,” he said. “What we can do is speak up for the jobless, the homeless and all those crying out for more public-sector investment.”

It was a revealing remark from a former chairman of Labour’s Scottish executive.

William MacLeod Speirs was the son of Robert Speirs and his wife Mary, nee MacKenzie.

After school he studied at the Strathclyde University,

gaining a first-class honours

degree in politics.

He remained at the university to work as a researcher from 1974-76, then progressed to lecturing at Cardonald College in 1977. There was a brief interregnum as a bar steward in Paisley before he joined Paisley College of Technology, again as a researcher, from 1978-79.

During his time at the STUC Speirs was a member of the Central Arbitration Committee and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. He also served on the board of the Scottish Low Pay Unit, the Scottish One Fund for All, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, and was chairman of Workbase Training (Scotland). Speirs was also a member of the 7:84 Theatre Company’s board.

He succeeded Christie as general secretary of the STUC in 1998, just a year before the Scottish Parliament was established.

“Bill took over just as the whole purpose of the STUC was changing, from stomping around Glasgow Green with banners to having day-to-day dialogue with ministers,” said Aitken. “It was a difficult transition and I think Bill handled that very well.”

During his 19 years working for the STUC, Speirs was responsible for handling overall policy areas, stretching from employment law, race equality, and international work to STUC strategy towards devolution.

He was a key member of the group which drafted the blueprint for a devolved Parliament, entitled Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right, prepared by the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1995.

In July 2006 he announced his retirement as general secretary, saying that a period of ill health had enabled him to take stock, move on and take up fresh challenges, having originally intended to serve just five years in the role.

The then First Minister Jack McConnell, a Scottish Labour Action contemporary, praised Speirs as “a formidable campaigner and staunch internationalist”. Speirs was appointed a

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1999 and received an honorary degree from Paisley

University in 1999.

He contributed to the Scottish Trade Union Review and a book, The Manpower Services Commission in Scotland, in 1989.

He enjoyed folk music, watching St Mirren FC, cricket and, according to his Who’s Who entry, “losing money on horses”. Under “clubs” he listed “Daft Watty’s Ramblers” in Paisley.

He is survived by his son David and daughter Jackie from his first marriage to Lynda, dissolved in 1990, and his second wife, Pat Grieve, whom he married in 2002.