Born: July 27, 1942;

Died: October 17, 2021

ERNIE Ross, who has died aged 79, was an energetic and affable Labour MP who represented Dundee West from 1979 until 2005, working tirelessly and often in poor health, for the betterment of his native city.

In the words of Michael Marra MSP, who worked with him throughout his career: “He was a lovely man, utterly devoted to his family and a friend to many. He took untold joy in the election of a Labour government in 1997. For eight years he never stopped smiling as he voted through legislation time and again that helped his constituents and the country.”

Ernie came into Labour politics through the trade union route. having become active in the AUEW while employed as a quality control engineer at Timex in Dundee. In 1979, he was elected for Dundee West in succession to Peter Doig, while his close friend, Willie McKelvey, became MP for Kilmarnock, also with backing from the engineering union.

Both voted for Tony Benn in Labour’s deputy leadership election in 1980 and became identified with a slightly eccentric campaign to make the Parliamentary Labour Party subject to conference decisions and manifesto commitments. Others on the left could foresee that while this might serve their short-term purpose, it would work against them if – as duly happened – conference and manifesto moved closer to the mainstream.

After the 1983 electoral debacle, that demand faded and Ross made a clear break with schismatic politics, recognising the scale of the task if Labour was ever to return to government. He was a widely respected constituency MP who was very much part of the community in which he had grown up. He never moved from his council house in Menzieshill while an MP or thereafter.

None of this stopped him having a deep interest in international affairs and particularly those of the Middle East. He supported Dundee City Council’s controversial 1980 decision to twin with the West Bank city of Nablus. Earlier this year, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK visited Dundee to express thanks for the city’s continuing support for twinning, with particular reference to Ernie’s longstanding commitment.

International matters also drew him into the biggest controversy of his career. When Labour won in 1997, he was delighted to find himself a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. However loyalty, in particular to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook soon led him into a high-profile episode which resulted in resignation from the committee and suspension from the Commons.

The committee investigated what became known as the Sandline Affair, involving a company which sold arms into war-torn Sierra Leone despite a UN embargo. The committee’s report was severely critical of the Foreign Office’s role for, at best, turning a blind eye to Sandline International’s activities which assisted in the restoration of President Ahmad Kabbah, who had been removed by a military coup.

Ross leaked a draft of the report to Cook, who made the mistake of pre-empting its findings in interviews before they had been published. This was spotted by a Tory committee member, and Parliamentary outrage ensued. Ironically, the leadership offered by the UK in restoring Sierra Leone’s democratically elected president became a symbol of the Blair government’s “ethical foreign policy” but this judgment of history did not come soon enough to save Ross from a 10-day suspension from the House.

During his first term in Parliament, he survived cancer with the help of keyhole surgery developed by a team led by Sir Alfred Cuschieri at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. Ross was one of the first patients to benefit from the pioneering work of the Maltese surgeon and remained proud of, as well as grateful for, this connection between his own survival and the status of Dundee as a centre of medical excellence.

Dundee University lay within his constituency and he maintained close relations, playing a particularly valuable role when the future of its prestigious Dental School was under threat. He lobbied successfully to bring hundreds of Department of Work and Pensions jobs to the city. Like many MPs of the period, much of his time was devoted to dealing with the effects of industrial transition, not least at his own former workplace.

Timex had been in Dundee for 40 years but by the early 1990s was facing intense competition from the Far East in computer production. When the management tried to make redundancies, the workforce voted overwhelmingly to strike and when they offered to return, the company locked them out. After a bitter six-month dispute, the plant shut permanently in August 1993.

Ross’s parents both worked at National Cash Register and he was educated at St Joseph’s and St Mary’s primary schools and St John’s Junior Secondary School. He trained initially as an engineer at Caledon Shipyard before joining Timex. While he retained a Catholic faith, he also cheerfully accepted criticism from the Church for his liberal voting record on such issues as abortion and age of consent.

Ernie supported Dundee United and was a regular at Tannadice, and helped his friend, the manager Jim McLean, when issues arose which involved securing visas or the like. It was noted in 1992 that, according to Vacher’s Parliamentary Guide, Ernie was the only Scottish Labour MP who professed to a liking for cricket. Whatever the subject, he was good company and a compassionate, humane colleague.

He is survived by his wife Jane ‘June’ Moad, a playgroup supervisor whom he married in 1964, and their three children. Stephen is retired and lives in Milton Keynes, Ali is a vetting officer with Dagenham and Redbridge Council, and Karen is a teacher in Dundee.