George Islay MacNeill Robertson was born in 1946 in Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Scotland, and educated at Dunoon Grammar School and the University of Dundee. He graduated MA (Honours) in Economics in 1968.
He was a full time official of the General, Municipal and Boilermakers' Union (GMB) responsible for the Scottish Whisky industry from 1968-1978. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1978, and reelected five times.
He was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Social Services in 1979. After the 1979 General Election, he was appointed an Opposition Spokesman, first on Scottish Affairs, then on Defence, and on Foreign Affairs from 1982 to 1993. He became Chief Spokesman on Europe in 1983. He served as the principal Opposition Spokesman on Scotland in the Shadow Cabinet from 1993-1997.
After the 1997 General Election, Prime Minister Blair appointed him Defence Secretary of the United Kingdom, a position he held until his departure in October 1999. In August 1999 he was selected to be the tenth Secretary General of NATO in succession to Dr Javier Solana. On 24 August he received a life peerage and took the title Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.
He is a former Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, was Vice-chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, served as Vice-Chairman of the British Council for nine years. He was, for seven years, on the Council of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) where he now serves as Joint President. He is a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation and a Trustee of the 21st Century Trust.
He was awarded the Grand Cross of the German Order of Merit by the Federal German President in 1991 and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania in 2000, and was named joint Parliamentarian of the Year in 1993 for his role during the Maastricht Treaty ratification. He is Honorary Regimental Colonel of the London Scottish (Volunteers). He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by the Universities of Dundee and Bradford, by Cranfield University (Royal Military College of Science), Baku State University, Azerbaijan, and the Romanian National School of Political and Administrative Studies, Bucharest. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (honFRSE), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and an Elder Brother of Trinity House.
He was appointed a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council in May 1997.
He is married to Sandra, and has three children. His hobbies include photography, golf and reading.