MacPherson, (James) Ian (1880–1937), chief secretary for Ireland and 1st Baron Strathcarron , was born 14 May 1880 near Newtownmore, Inverness-shire, Scotland, second son of James MacPherson, JP, and Anne MacPherson (née Stewart). Educated locally, and at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, he graduated MA and LLB from Edinburgh University. Always known as Ian MacPherson, he studied at Middle Temple, and was called to the bar in 1906. Combining journalism and law, he twice stood unsuccessfully for parliament in 1910. In 1911 he was returned as Liberal MP for Ross and Cromarty, and he represented this constituency for the next twenty-five years. With the outbreak of the first world war he first became parliamentary secretary to the under-secretary of state for war (1914–16), and then himself under-secretary of state for war (1916–18). He became a privy councillor in 1918, deputy secretary of state for war (1918–19), and KC (1919).
The youngest KC, PC, and member of the cabinet, on 13 January 1919 he was appointed chief secretary for Ireland, the penultimate person to hold that office. By this time the position had become a heavy and difficult burden, and the weaknesses in the Castle administration were compounded by the outbreak of the war of independence. In the British house of commons on 3 April 1919 MacPherson admitted that when answering parliamentary questions ‘all I can do is stand up and read a carefully prepared answer, prepared by somebody else, as best I can’ (quoted in NHI, vi, 595). Subject to almost daily death threats, MacPherson attended to the task in Ireland as best as he could, but was overwhelmed by the gradual collapse of the administrative system. This was not helped by his ostracism of the Castle under-secretary, James MacMahon (qv), a catholic with nationalist sympathies, which further affected the efficiency of the administration. A report on the Castle administration, commissioned by the cabinet, concluded that the whole system was now ‘quite obsolete’, and that the chief secretary's office had become ‘merely a transmitting body’, with the holder failing to keep the government informed on crucial matters of policy (ibid., 603). MacPherson was a committed supporter of home rule, but determinedly hostile to Sinn Féin. Much of the success of that organisation, he once confided to Lloyd George, was due to the death of Thomas Ashe (qv) in 1917; he said it had done ‘more to stimulate Sinn Feinism and disorder in Ireland than anything I know’ (quoted in Laffan, 269). In May 1919 he recommended suppressing Sinn Féin, the Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, and the Gaelic League to restore law and order, but Edward Carson (qv) and Bonar Law both rejected this idea as too extreme. MacPherson won the argument and the organisations were ‘proclaimed’ as illegal in July 1919.
Resigning in April 1920, he was replaced by Sir Hamar Greenwood (qv). MacPherson then became minister of pensions, and his pensions act (1922) is considered his greatest political achievement. The fall of the government in 1922 led to his withdrawal from active politics. He was created a baronet in 1933, and 1st Baron Strathcarron of Banchor, Co. Inverness, on 11 January 1936. He died 14 August 1937 of a heart attack at a restaurant in London, and was cremated at Golders Green. He married (24 September 1915) Jill Rhodes; they had one son and two daughters.