Monday, October 11, 2010

Donald Dewar - ten years on

I know exactly what I was doing at this moment ten years ago. Sitting in my car in a car park in Burntisland in Fife crying my eyes out. I'd driven over there to hand in to my solicitors the money to pay for this house which we moved into the following week. It was the first time I'd ever driven over the Forth Road Bridge on my own.

That wasn't why I was crying though.

The reason for my tears was that it had just been announced on the radio that Scotland's first First Minister Donald Dewar had died of a brain haemorrhage. The signs had not been good since his admission to hospital the previous afternoon, but the finality of the announcement, and the emotion in his then spokesman David Whitton's voice was hard to hear. It reminded me of that awful day when David Penhaligon died, the same sort of sadness at losing a good one far too soon.

Donald Dewar was not perfect by any manner of means but he was such an important force in the formation of the Scottish Parliament. I liked the moment when as Secretary of State for Scotland he read from the first page of the Scotland Act and said "There shall be a Scottish Parliament - I like that" with a proud smile on his face.  Not everybody in the Labour Party was that keen on the idea, and especially not the funny voting system it was elected by, which aspires to encourage a more consensual, grown up sort of politics. Sometimes it works.

He also was a pivotal force in the formation of the first coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament, the one which brought in free personal care and abolished tuition fees and it's no exaggeration to say that without him, and the close working relationship he had with Jim Wallace, those early days of Government may not have gone so smoothly.

One of the things I really admire about him is that he put his principles into action. He believed in helping the poorest and most vulnerable and he was assiduous in helping his constituents. Outside Parliament he chose to spend time working as a Reporter to the Children's Panel rather than take a much higher paid job with a posh law firm.

It was such a shame that he never got to see how successful the Scottish Parliament has become, and one of the reasons for that success is the work he put in.

I really can't believe it's 10 years already since he died.

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