Susan Deacon

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Susan Deacon
File:Susan deacon.jpg
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh
In office
6 May 1999 – 3 May 2007
Preceded by New Parliament
Succeeded by Kenny MacAskill
Personal details
Born (1964-02-02) 2 February 1964 (age 55)
Political party Scottish Labour Party
Domestic partner John Boothman
Children 2
Residence East Lothian
Alma mater University of Edinburgh

Susan Deacon (born 2 February 1964, Musselburgh) is a Scottish public figure who operates across the spheres of education, business, and the not-for-profit sector, and is an independent adviser on public policy, governance and strategic leadership. She is chair of the Institute of Directors in Scotland and a former MSP and Scottish Cabinet Minister.

She was Labour MSP for Edinburgh East & Musselburgh from 1999–2007 and served as Scotland’s first Cabinet Minister for Health and Community Care following the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. She is Assistant Principal External Relations at the University of Edinburgh and a non-executive director of several companies.


Deacon attended Musselburgh Grammar School, where she was head girl and active in inter-schools debating. She studied at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an MA (Hons) in Social Policy and Politics in 1987 and later an MBA in 1992. She was vice president of Edinburgh University Students' Association, and chair of Scottish Labour Students.


Her early career was in local government where she worked for seven years in research and management roles. After a spell in management consultancy and training in the private sector, she became director of MBA programmes at the Edinburgh Business School, at Heriot-Watt University, which included managing Scotland's first Consortium MBA programme for companies. Deacon was involved in the creation of the Business School as a new graduate school within the university.

Meanwhile, she rose through Labour ranks serving on the Scottish Labour Party's National Executive and was a founder member of the pro-devolution pressure group, Scottish Labour Action.

In 1999, she was elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament and appointed Cabinet Minister for Health and Community Care (see Member of Scottish Parliament below).

Deacon stood down from the Scottish Parliament in 2007, later leaving the Labour Party, although she has continued to be engaged in wider public policy debate as an independent commentator. She has spoken widely on strategic leadership and change, arguing for greater co-operation across political and sectoral boundaries and less reliance on 'top-down policies'.[1]

She was Professor of Social Change at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, before being appointed Honorary Professor in the School of Social and Political Science, at the University of Edinburgh. In September 2012, she was appointed as Assistant Principal Corporate Engagement [2] and Professorial Fellow at the university. Her work involves developing the university's relationships with external stakeholders and encouraging greater collaboration between academia, policymakers and business.

In 2010, Deacon was appointed by Michael Russell, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning as the Scottish Government's "Early Years Champion".[3] Her report, Joining the Dots,[4] received widespread interest [5] and is credited with influencing policy and investment in children's early years development and education.

Deacon has been involved with the global energy group, Iberdrola, since its acquisition of ScottishPower Ltd in 2007, serving first on its UK Advisory Board and then as a non-executive director of ScottishPower Renewables Ltd. She was chairman of ScottishPower Renewables[6] from 2010-2012, joining the main board of ScottishPower Ltd as a non-executive director in 2012 [7] and from 2009 until 2014 was a trustee of Fundación Iberdrola,[8] the Spanish group's global educational and charitable arm.

Deacon has served on a number of other boards and advisory groups, including the Traverse Theatre, Pfizer UK Foundation, Dewar Arts Awards Trust, and the strategic review of the National Trust for Scotland. From 2008-2012, she was founding chairperson of the Hibernian Community Foundation – the charity set up by Hibernian Football Club. Currently, she is a non-executive director of Scottish Power Ltd and Lothian Buses Ltd, a governor of the Institute of Occupational Medicine, and a fellow of the RSA. In November 2015, she was appointed chair of the Institute of Directors in Scotland. [9]

Member of Scottish Parliament

Deacon was elected to the Scottish Parliament as MSP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh in May 1999 and, though widely tipped for ministerial office, her appointment by First Minister Donald Dewar as Scotland’s first cabinet Minister for Health and Community Care came as a surprise to many.[10] She had been education spokesperson in Dewar's election campaign team and had been initially rejected as a candidate by Scottish Labour's controversial vetting process,[11] eventually becoming the only person to appeal successfully. Despite this rocky start, Deacon gained respect in the new Parliament and was regarded as one of Labour's most effective performers - and was tipped as a possible future First Minister.[12] In 1999, she won Frontbencher of the Year in the Herald's inaugural Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, and was nominated alongside Donald Dewar and Alex Salmond for that year's Scottish Politician of the Year accolade.

Henry McLeish reappointed Deacon as Health Minister when he took over as First Minister following the death of Donald Dewar in November 2000 and she continued until McLeish’s resignation in November 2001. Deacon was offered a further Cabinet position by incoming First Minister Jack McConnell in November 2001 but, by then pregnant with her second child, decided instead to leave Government[13] and go to the backbenches.

During her time as Health Minister, Deacon led major changes in the governance and leadership of the National Health Service in Scotland and championed reforms in child health, mental health and older people's care. She was responsible for the first Scottish Health Plan.[14]

A critic of the flagship policy of free personal care, she argued against its introduction saying future costs were unknown and may not be sustainable – a view rejected by the Scottish Parliament. She won plaudits for her strong stance against militant anti-abortion campaigners,[15] though was criticised by the Roman Catholic Church for her position on issues such as teenage pregnancy and contraception.[16]

As a backbench MSP, Deacon was regarded as a thoughtful and independent voice, served on several Parliamentary Committees, including Enterprise and Audit. She co-founded and chaired the Cross Party Group on Sexual Health and was involved in work on reproductive health and HIV/Aids both in the UK and abroad. The only Scottish member of the RSA UK Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy,[17] Deacon was a critic of Government drugs policy. Her opposition[18] to the Iraq War won her support among Labour Party members and the Scottish public, but left relationships strained with parliamentary colleagues. Deacon was re-elected as an MSP in 2003, securing the largest Labour majority in Edinburgh, and had been selected to fight her Edinburgh East and Musselburgh seat again in the 2007 election but in August 2006, she announced her decision to stand down from the Scottish Parliament. Deacon said she had had enough of the ‘raw tribalism of party politics’ and that she wanted to 'move on to seek new challenges and to channel my energies in other ways.' [19]

Personal life

Deacon lives in Prestonpans, East Lothian with her partner John Boothman and their two children.[20]


  1. [1] Can Creativity and Common Sense Prevail? professorial lecture, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 4 November 2008.
  2. [2] Edinburgh University role for former Scottish Government Cabinet Minister and MSP, September 2012.
  3. [3] The Scottish Government's Early Years Action, 27 June 2010.
  4. > Joining The Dots: A Better Start for Scotland's Children, March 2011, ISBN 978-1-78045-050-6.
  5. [4] Ex-minister says action needed to safeguard children, BBC News, 2 March 2011.
  6. [5] Deacon to chair ScottishPower Renewables, press release, 19 July 2010.
  7. [6] Susan Deacon Appointed to ScottishPower board of directors, press release, 18 July 2012.
  8. [7] Scottish trustee on Fundación Iberdrola, 18 December 2008.
  9. [8] First female chair of IoD Scotland, press release, 4 November 2015.
  10. Leader column, The Herald (Glasgow), 18 May 1999.
  11. “Holyrood hopeful gets a second chance”, The Scotsman, 10 August 1998.
  12. “Holyrood Health”, Sunday Herald magazine, 6 February 2000.
  13. [9]“Deacon: pregnancy forced me to resign,” The Herald, 1 December 2001.
  14. [10] Our National Health: A plan for action, a plan for change, NHS Scotland, 2001.
  15. [11] 'Stalin' jibe over abortions, BBC News. 2 December 1999.
  16. “Deacon and Winning at war over sex”, The Scotsman, 4 December 1999.
  17. [12] The RSA UK Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy. Published March 2007.
  18. [13] “Deacon defends rebellion on Iraq”, The Herald, 20 February 2003. Members debate in Scottish Parliament, 13 March 2003.
  19. [14] Deacon Blue, Interview with Gillian Bowditch, Sunday Times Ecosse, 20 August 2006.
  20. [15] Deacon Decides To Quit Holyrood in Blow For Labour, The Scotsman, 14 August 2006.

External links

Scottish Parliament
Preceded by
Constituency Created
Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh
Succeeded by
Kenny MacAskill
Preceded by
position created
Minister for Health and Community Care
Succeeded by
Malcolm Chisholm