Farmer and Scottish Conservative MP

Born: May 30, 1925;

Died: December 15, 2018

DAVID Myles, who has died aged 93, liked to tell a self-deprecating story about his early days as an MP at Westminster. A barman reputedly asked if he was a Member, to which David replied: “I’m Myles, from Banff.” “Yeah, aren’t we all,” responded the barman, “I asked if you were a Member.”

Myles joined the House of Commons in May 1979, one of several Scottish Conservative candidates to defeat nine SNP MPs amid a modest revival of the party’s fortunes. Myles beat the incumbent Nationalist, Hamish Watt, by 799 votes.

“Like me,” joked Myles in his maiden speech, “Hamish is a farmer, although he owns his land and I am but a humble tenant. One could say that one teuchter was replaced by another teuchter.” But Myles was a pragmatist rather than a revolutionary. “I do not want to abolish the lairds or, for that matter, the lords,” he told MPs, “but I certainly want to keep them in order.”

David Fairlie Myles was born on 30 May 1925, the son of Robert C Myles and Mary Anne (née Fairlie). Educated at Edzell Primary School and Brechin High School, for several decades he worked as a tenant hill farmer and was active in the National Farmers Union of Scotland, becoming convener of its organisation and publicity committee in 1976.

After the Second World War, he had served with the Royal Marines, meeting Janet Gall while on leave at a young farmers’ function in Brechin. They married in 1951 and later moved to Edzell, where they farmed and raised their four children.

Selected as the Conservative candidate for Banffshire, he had an early encounter with Margaret Thatcher at the Glenfarclas Distillery. Interrupting a long introduction from its chairman, “she spoke for about ten minutes and when she finished she asked if anyone had any questions,” recalled Myles. “There were none. She had covered all the points they would have made.”

At Westminster, Myles became a member of the Agriculture Select Committee, once enlivening proceedings by asking the Farm Animal Welfare Council if it was acceptable to feed pigs beer. “I heard recently…that someone was feeding beer and perhaps turning pigs into alcoholics,” he remarked amidst laughter. A representative diplomatically replied that pigs had the ability to grow fat on residues of all kinds.

Later, when the committee called for sweeping reforms of factory farming, Myles was one of three Tory Members who tried to dilute sections of its report, believing that battery cages provided a reasonable environment for hens. “Everything”, he said, “is just perfect for them to lie back and enjoy themselves.”

Myles was moderately pro-European, and in early 1983 was appointed to a Conservative policy committee charged with producing reform proposals that could sit alongside a ritual confirmation of the UK’s European commitment. In 1981, he had abstained in a vote on increasing petrol tax given the likely impact on his constituency.

At the 1983 general election, Banffshire was abolished by boundary changes, which meant Myles had to find a new seat. After attempting to challenge Nicholas Fairbairn in Perth and Kinross, he ended up contesting Orkney and Shetland, where former Liberal leader Jo Grimond was standing down. Jim Wallace, however, retained the seat with a majority of more than 4,000 votes.

The following year, Myles won election to Angus District Council, serving as leader of the Conservative group in the mid-1990s. He was also chairman of the Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal for Scotland (1984–97) and a member of Angus Tourist Board (1984–92), the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board (1985–88) and the Potato Marketing Board (1988–97).

Appointed CBE in the 1988 Birthday Honours, Myles had a razor-sharp mind and a deep commitment to his local community. During the 1992 general election, he urged a panel of five politicians to stop “boring” the audience. “We are going to have to make a choice at this election,” he protested, “so for goodness sake start falling out about something.”

A fine fiddler and curler, Myles was also an active member of the Brechin Rotary Club for more than four decades, and particularly enjoyed its Burns Supper, at which he would deliver scholarly and amusing Immortal Memories. On his 90th birthday, the club celebrated by presenting him with “an aptly bovine-adorned cake”.

David Myles died at his care home on 15 December, his wife Janet having predeceased him in 2012. He is survived by two daughters and two sons, one of whom, Robert, is leader of Angus Council.