When loss of life visits there’s a pure human intuition to veer in direction of seeing solely good within the not too long ago departed. When the deceased is a public determine observations may be overly respectful. When that individual is way admired, tributes can turn out to be a conductor for the conferring of sainthood.
When Scotland’s first-ever First Minister Donald Dewar died on October 11, 2000, tribute programmes declared him the Father of the Nation and the Robert Burns track ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’, was performed incessantly. I bear in mind having a chuckle as I assumed, ‘he would hate every minute of this’.
There was additionally some behind-the-scenes wrangling over using Glasgow Cathedral for his funeral. This confirmed agnostic would have hated that too. In truth, the entire panoply of grief that accompanied his passing would have been met with an air of barely hid contempt by the late Donald Campbell Dewar.
He was a person not given to sentimentality. When introduced with a younger Leo Blair in Downing Street by a proud father and newly elected Prime Minister, probably the most he might assume to himself was “aren’t all babies really ugly?”.
When pal Kenneth Munro inquired “How’s your mother, Donald?”, he was met with the road “Dead. Quite dead.” Dewar on one other event dismissed the necessity for funerals, venturing the view that the council’s cleaning division might save the bereaved cash by merely disposing of the physique.
These illustrations usually are not recorded to shock. Rather they’re instructed affectionately, for Donald was, above all, very idiosyncratic, his mannerisms and character traits having their roots in a childhood that was variously unusual, sad and lent itself to the spawning of an emotionally awkward younger man.
He might stay mute or be hilarious, relying on how the temper discovered him. His manners might be punctilious or he might be spectacularly impolite. He might abandon a tract on Gladstone to observe Italian soccer on Channel 4. His buddies adored and had been infuriated by him, not fairly in equal measure for the core decency of his rules trumped any temptation to bear grudges.
His buddies have supplied completely different takes on him. In the one TV documentary ever made on his life (The Dewar Year, STV, 2001), Baroness Meta Ramsay mentioned, as a scholar, he was sardonic.
The late Donald MacCormick mentioned he modelled his type of debate on Clovis, a P G Wodehouse character who lampooned the vanities of the ruling class. The late Lord Gordon recalled that he might be “odd”. Lord Hattersley instructed the STV programme that he was intensely non-public, which was typically misunderstood for loneliness.
And but all spoke of him with a freely volunteered affection which was indicative of a singularly distinctive persona and one which might be completely fascinating firm, when he selected to be.
For a Labour politician from the West of Scotland he was uncommon. Born into an higher middle-class household, his mother and father lived in a grand home overlooking Kelvingrove Park. But they didn’t preserve in one of the best of well being and Dewar was despatched to a boarding faculty within the Scottish Borders earlier than returning to Glasgow, the place, considerably inexplicably, he ended up for a time at Mosspark Primary School.
With his gangly body, posh accent and staccato supply he stood out from different kids who in flip, bullied him. That, together with mother and father who had been of their time within the affection stakes, produced a younger man who was not overly emotional. Any ardour got here from being moved by concepts relatively than folks.
He got here into his personal at Glasgow University, the place buddies included future Labour chief John Smith and Liberal Democrat chief Sir Menzies Campbell. Campbell remembers Donald having using his mother and father’ basement, which offered the venue for scholar events.
With an inquiring and logical thoughts and a pure aptitude for easy articulacy, it was maybe inevitable that he gravitated in direction of legislation. But it was politics that was his actual ardour. Dewar was an admirer of the then-Labour chief Hugh Gaitskell.
Gaitskell was a person who sought to raise public debate and who took passionate and, at instances, emotional stances on nice points. The emotion was fired by the mental certainty of his place. In that regard, there was one thing of the Gaitskell temperament in Dewar for he discovered ardour in causes extra readily than he did with people.
Gaitskell was a confrontational chief, who, relatively than search peace with these within the occasion he disagreed with, turned points into excessive precept and repeated checks of loyalty. On most points, the younger Donald would have been with Gaitskell as a matter of conviction, though he accepted additionally of Harold Wilson’s extra ecumenical type of occasion administration. Wilson succeeded as chief when Gaitskell died unexpectedly in January 1963.
Two years beforehand, a younger John Smith fought a by-election in East Fife. Meta Ramsay remembers Dewar recoiling when he wakened on her shoulder after they headed again to Glasgow by automobile after a day campaigning for his or her pal.
By his personal admission, Dewar had little time for ladies earlier than college. As he put it in a really Donald means, “we soon put that right”. The consideration of his affections was Alison McNair and he would marry her in 1964, simply on the conclusion of his research.
At the final election that 12 months, Dewar was despatched north to battle the Conservative-held seat of Aberdeen South. Harold Wilson gained throughout the UK at that election, Labour returning to energy after 13 years in opposition. Dewar reduce the Conservative majority within the Granite City to beneath 4000.
Two years later, Wilson known as a common election and gained a landslide. Back in Aberdeen, Dewar unseated the formidable Priscilla, Lady Tweedsmuir who had been a Scottish Office minister.
In 1967, he was appointed as parliamentary non-public secretary to Anthony Crosland, then training Secretary and the foremost social democratic thinker in Britain. Crosland’s seminal work, The Future of Socialism, printed in 1956 stays the bible for revisionist thinkers on the Left.
An mental large who spoke in a definite higher class voice, C A R Crosland ought to have been Dewar’s dream minister. But they didn’t get on. The Scottish MP discovered that Crosland “spoke in a sort of intellectual short hand and if you couldn’t keep up then too bad”. Dewar additionally discovered Crosland’s lionising working-class MPs who had been ineffective to be annoying.
In the 1966-1970 parliament, Dewar would have been considered one to observe. In Scottish Labour circles, the dominant determine was the omnipotent Scottish secretary Willie Ross. For Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Ross and Labour in Scotland had been one and the identical factor and the person dubbed in occasion circles because the ‘king of Scotland’ was impressed by Dewar.
Ministerial conferment would have come after the 1970 election however Labour unexpectedly misplaced. Donald Dewar was unseated by Ian Sproat of ‘dole queue scroungers’ fame. To pile private distress on high of political calamity, his marriage collapsed when his spouse left him for Derry Irvine, a future Lord Chancellor within the Blair authorities.
He returned to the legislation, working as a reporter to the Children’s Panel and introduced a programme on the brand new Radio Clyde, based by his college pal Jimmy Gordon. He sniffed round many nominations and misplaced all of them, together with to Dennis Canavan in West Stirlingshire simply earlier than the February 1974 common election.
Just as he will need to have thought a return to Westminster was by no means going to return, he landed what seemed like a pact with political suicide. Dewar was chosen to battle a parliamentary by-election within the Glasgow Garscadden constituency in 1978.
The election got here on the peak of the Labour authorities’s try to legislate for a Scottish Assembly. The occasion was divided on the problem, each in parliament and the nation. To make issues worse, in a portent of what would come 29 years later, the SNP threatened to defeat Labour of their central belt heartland seats.
In what proved the watershed of all watersheds, Dewar held Garscadden and after additional victories for Labour at Hamilton and Berwick and East Lothian later in 1978, 70s nationalism endured a profound retreat.
The Garscadden marketing campaign was bitter and ugly. Dewar was pilloried for his pro-abortion views, having to run a gauntlet one night of younger women in Holy Communion clothes with folks whispering ‘murderer’.
The gentlemanly SNP candidate Keith Bovey, a number one gentle in CND, needed to endure bitter assaults too in a seat that neighboured Yarrow Shipbuilders.
The Garscadden legacy was profound because it reasserted the occasion’s dominance in Scotland and noticed off the SNP, who would borrow a leaf from Labour’s e book as they went hell for leather-based within the internecine warfare stakes.
Garscadden was a mile up the street from Donald Dewar’s house in Glasgow’s west finish. Behind the grand façade was a threadbare house. Dewar had little time for materialism. Works by the Scottish colourist FCB Cadell had been saved in bubble wrap beneath the steps.
The house was not centrally heated and outdoors he drove an outdated Allegro, the inside of which resembled a battlefield. He joked that somebody mistook a Yarrow Shipbuilders tie for one by Yves Saint Laurent, misreading the motif.
If representing Aberdeen South was all the time an electoral high-wire act given its marginal standing, Glasgow Garscadden can be a job for all times. It included the sprawling Drumchapel housing scheme alongside the extra genteel group of Knightswood.
Dewar was a conscientious MP who abhorred the dearth of alternative for youngsters from poor backgrounds. His life’s work politically was to “right the social arithmetic”, as he put it.
His beliefs had been classically social democratic with a worth system rooted in equality, social justice and redistribution of wealth. To that ought to be added values from the Liberal custom of private freedom and constitutional change.
Labour misplaced the 1979 common election and it was the social democratic custom that Dewar embraced that many in occasion circles turned on as one which had betrayed the working class and mismanaged capitalism similar to the Tories.
The post-1979 civil conflict noticed an upsurge of cult persona politics round Anthony Wedgwood Benn (or Tony as he had turn out to be), an embrace of a Marxist evaluation and democratic centralist views on making MPs and the occasion the servants of activists relatively than electors.
Dewar was outstanding within the Labour Solidarity Campaign aimed toward stemming a drift to the unelectable Left. In his constituency he got here beneath heavy stress and needed to see off a problem to deselect him.
A resident of the Hillhead constituency, he took his mom to vote within the memorable by election of 1982. She voted for ‘that nice Mr Jenkins’ as the previous Labour deputy chief defeated the Labour candidate in his new colors as an SDP customary bearer.
Dewar turned shadow Scottish secretary in 1984, a recognition of his competence and parliamentary capacity. He spoke at lightning velocity, the Hansard stenographers regularly left befuddled by his tempo and vocabulary. He served his time on the Scottish Affairs Committee, which he chaired for a 12 months in 1980.
For a lot of the 1980s Donald Dewar was the face of Labour in Scotland. The job would have felt like an extended lament for industrial Scotland as he opposed the federal government on manufacturing facility closures and the rundown of conventional industries, significantly metal manufacturing and coal mining.
The Proclaimers track, Letter from America, summed it up properly; Bathgate no extra, Linwood no extra, Methil no extra, Irvine no extra and throw in Lochaber, Sutherland, Lewis and Skye for good measure. There was not part of Scotland not touched by mass unemployment.
Despite a ‘Scottish Resistance Campaign’ impressed by these on the SNP Left, the nationalists nonetheless had not recovered from the post-Garscadden slide and voters seemed to Labour and Dewar to take away what they noticed as the foundation reason behind joblessness: a Conservative authorities elected throughout the UK.
The 1987 common election was fought on the so known as ‘doomsday scenario’: Scotland votes in giant numbers towards the Tories however finally ends up with a Conservative authorities on the again of votes elsewhere within the UK.
Dewar was to guide a bunch of 50 Labour MPs elected in 1987, rapidly dubbed the ‘feeble 50’ by the SNP. The 1987 election was a vindication of his measured management, however he would have recognized deep down there can be hassle forward. Electoral frustration was sure to check voter loyalty.
Margaret Thatcher did nothing to assist with the ballot tax. Introduced in Scotland earlier than the remainder of the UK, it re-energised the SNP, who rapidly adopted a non-payment marketing campaign. Dewar’s measured and strictly throughout the legislation strategy allowed Labour’s detractors to indict on the idea of political impotence.
When Jim Sillars captured Govan for the SNP at a by-election in November 1988, there adopted months of soul-searching throughout the occasion. Dewar’s response was to carry his nerve and take a calculated gamble.
His intestine intuition – which largely proved appropriate – was that the SNPs non- fee marketing campaign would supply a short-term increase however wouldn’t alter electoral fortunes long run, significantly as the results of non-payment turned clear and helped to spark voter disapproval.
And by committing Labour to embrace a Constitutional Convention on Home Rule, he championed a cross-party strategy in deciding the form of a future Scottish Parliament. This was not carried out for cause of expediency. Dewar genuinely believed the undertaking on forging an settlement on future governance ought to be owned by all of Scotland.
His determination to again the Convention was the most important strategic determination he took right now and the results had been profound. The Convention was to be the bedrock on which the Holyrood parliament was constructed.
The SNPs determination to not take part additionally performed properly for Labour. Seven months after Govan, Labour noticed off a problem in neighbouring Glasgow Central and by the point of a double by-election in Paisley in 1990, the SNP had been put again of their field in shades of 1978.
The man who had stopped 70s nationalism appeared to be placing the break on progress for the SNP over a decade later.
But nonetheless there was the problem of delivering a parliament and that might solely include a Labour authorities. There was subsequently a way of feverish pleasure as campaigning acquired underway on the 1992 common election.
Thatcher was gone, however her occasion remained unpopular in Scotland. John Major seemed uninteresting and unimaginative. Unfortunately for Dewar, Neil Kinnock couldn’t seal the take care of voters and Labour went right down to a fourth straight election defeat.
He was profoundly depressed. He confided in Helen Liddell that maybe he was a part of a technology that might by no means be in authorities. He had held the road towards the SNP assaults and from inside critics and he did so with talent and fortitude, for a few of the assaults had been deeply disagreeable.
His nice pal John Smith succeeded Kinnock as Labour chief. Dewar was on the transfer, changing into shadow social safety spokesman. At this time he was most likely probably the most recognisable politician in Scotland and was properly revered however he had led for practically a decade, so time was proper for a transfer.
He was a fantastic particulars man so the temporary appealed. And, in fact, the proper insurance policies might assist to ‘right the social arithmetic’. He proved masterful within the function.
In May 1994, John Smith died of a coronary heart assault on the age of 55. It was a crushing blow. Dewar gave a sometimes well-judged tribute at Smith’s funeral. The ache of the loss was etched on his gaunt face, which took on an nearly haunted look.
Tony Blair succeeded Smith. He had shared an workplace with Dewar, whom he known as DD, a lot to Dewar’s studied indifference. In any case DD was on the transfer once more as he turned Labour’s chief whip.
The appointment was met with incredulity by some as Dewar is the final individual conceivable to be wielding massive sticks or sturdy arming recalcitrant MPs. In retrospect he was an impressed selection. His deputies had been the enforcers and he might be left to proffer recommendation to Blair on parliamentary ways.
The job additionally appealed to the gossip in Dewar. He liked gossip principally for the amusement worth it gave relatively than any bent for prurience or the taking of pleasure in misfortune. He might faux to not be concerned with some nugget of scandal however hated not understanding.
He might be genuinely bemused by the sexual antics of colleagues or by behaviour he thought-about odd. Crossing Parliament Square with a journalist pal on the evening of a vote to equalise the age of consent, he checked out what he thought-about a ‘freak show’ of drag acts, males dressed as nuns and diverse Village People wannabees. “How are you voting tonight Donald?” “For 16, of course,” got here the definitive reply.
The Conservative authorities of John Major was killed by ridicule. A speech by Major on ‘back to basics’ was inaccurately interpreted as a campaign for household values. The tabloids crucified MPs whose sexual or monetary affairs transgressed what they thought the Prime Minister had implied was morally reprehensible.
No lurid element was spared from the collective public guffaw. As the Labour MP Brian Wilson remarked, Tory MPs had been resigning by the week to spend extra time with different folks’s households.
As chief whip, Dewar would have been the keeper of the black e book of scandal on his colleagues, however he remained tight-lipped on his contents. By that point he would have recognized that ministerial workplace was not too far-off.
After the Blair landslide in 1997, he turned Scottish secretary, a job most thought would have gone to George Robertson. Dewar recalled that Blair mentioned “I am sending you to Scotland”, including “as if it was a command to go to the salt mines”.
The transfer was the fitting one. No-one was higher suited to ship Home Rule and he was temperamentally the fitting selection in bringing strands of opinion collectively. George Robertson was all the time extra tribal, significantly when it got here to coping with the SNP.
The White Paper on the devolution laws was a mannequin of readability. His management was essential in forging a cross-party consensus which materialised within the type of the ‘Yes Yes’ marketing campaign forward of a referendum in September 1997.
Dewar was in his factor and on the peak of his powers. The referendum outcome noticed voters again the concept of a Scottish Parliament with the power to fluctuate tax. In actuality, the anti-Home Rule group Think Twice posed little downside to the Yes forces and Dewar labored properly with SNP chief Alex Salmond and with the chief of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Jim Wallace.
Dewar then printed the laws creating the parliament, telling assembled journalists: “Clause one of the Bill could not be clearer. There shall be a Scottish Parliament. I like that.”
There was some behind-the-scenes friction with different ministers over a few of the clauses within the Bill, however Dewar, with talent and persistence, managed to get what he needed.
The one mistake that was made round this time was to place a price ticket on the constructing of a brand new parliament, which was estimated to be between £10-40m. This would come again to hang-out Dewar, who early on in his ministerial tenure had concluded that the Calton Hill web site was unsuitable for the brand new establishment.
A design competitors would ultimately select the Catalan architect Enric Miralles to supervise a constructing which Dewar believed ought to be a chunk of landmark structure.
The first elections to the Scottish Parliament delivered anticipated victory for Labour, however the brand new PR voting system meant that they needed to forged round for coalition companions. The negotiations with the Liberal Democrats weren’t all the time simple and on a few events Jim Wallace was able to stroll, however ultimately the 2 events agreed to kind the primary authorities of the devolved period.
July 1, 1999 marked the day when the Scottish Parliament assumed legislative authority. In a masterful handle to MSPs, Dewar delivered the speech of his profession. He positioned the day in a historic context and drew inspiration from nice occasions that formed the Scotland he was honoured to guide.
At that distinctive second there was no-one who might rival him. He seemed and sounded the half and stood prepared to raised the frequent weal, to begin to proper the social arithmetic.
His time, nonetheless, in authorities was not a contented one. The scandal of the associated fee overruns of the Holyrood constructing undertaking bedevilled the parliament’s early days and he actively thought-about resigning when he found info he had given to parliament was not solely hopelessly optimistic however was simply plain fallacious. It says one thing about his sense of propriety that making an attempt to spin his means out of an issue by no means crossed his thoughts.
As a First Minister he was cautious, maybe too cautious. His strategy was all the time logical and regarded. In his cupboard, ministers jockeyed for the standing of ‘most likely successor’. His pal, the late Kenneth Munro, mentioned he didn’t convey these briefing the media to heel, saying that Dewar suffered from an incapability to be butcher.
It is true he didn’t do confrontation and he listened to trusted advisers Wendy Alexander and Lord Murray Elder, though the late Sam Galbraith believed that he ought to have trusted his personal judgements extra, arguing that some appointments seemed to be pressed upon him.
Galbraith, a straight speaking and regularly blunt man in addition to a adorned neurosurgeon, observed that Dewar’s well being was failing. The First Minister typically struggled to maintain up with Galbraith, which was alarming on condition that the physician walked slowly, having had a coronary heart and lung transplant.
Donald Dewar was admitted to hospital for checks on his coronary heart in April 2000 and had surgical procedure a month later to restore a leaking coronary heart valve. This resulted in a interval of convalescing at house. He didn’t, nonetheless, relaxation as he ought to have and ploughed his means by means of ministerial packing containers. It is now typically accepted that he went again to work too quickly.
On October 9, he opened the Glasgow headquarters of SMG, the then-media group that included STV and The Herald newspaper. The following day at Bute House he turned unwell. The occasion’s common secretary in Scotland Lesley Quinn was with him and recalled that the First Minister wore a resigned look much like that of her mom shortly earlier than she died.
Donald Dewar collapsed at Bute House and was taken to Edinburgh’s Western Infirmary, the place he died from a mind haemorrhage. He was solely 63.
The sense of shock was profound for he was an admired determine even amongst those that weren’t Labour supporters. At his core there was a ardour for doing proper by parliament, occasion and other people. He reduce a reassuring determine and was a world aside from a politics which on the time gave the impression to be a magnet for spivs and chancers.
Donald Dewar didn’t reside lengthy sufficient to construct and outline a brand new nation, however by being the chief architect of a quiet constitutional revolution he turned the conductor for all that has gone since his loss of life.
Wendy Alexander has mentioned that he didn’t have an overarching narrative for a brand new Scotland, however he knew why he was in politics and whose pursuits he wished to advance.
Not all colleagues admired him, some noting he might be petty, such because the function he performed in blocking a knighthood for Sean Connery regardless of the actor’s assist in campaigning for a Yes vote within the devolution referendum.
The legendary Scottish organiser for the occasion, the late Jimmy Allison, detected one thing of the snob in him, an remark these near Dewar can be fast to dismiss.
Like most males of real substance, any weaknesses of character paled into insignificance when set towards his strengths.
A last phrase. I first met him after I was a scholar. It was within the outdated North British Hotel in George Square in October 1981. I interviewed him most likely tons of of instances. I admired him enormously and was impressed by his values and the integrity with which he pursued them. His loss of life was tragic for his occasion and the nation he felt honoured to serve.
His time in workplace was comparatively brief and it was bedevilled with issues. His legacy, nonetheless, is large and it’s to be discovered within the type of Scotland’s Parliament. He is subsequently a determine of giant historic curiosity within the unfolding story of this nation.