As Scotland marked St Andrew's Day with a flurry of nationalistic self- affirmation - topped by the opening of the Museum of Scotland by the Queen - Mr Dewar was obliged to move with the tide.
Speaking in St Andrews, Fife, he said the devolution settlement, setting up a parliament in Edinburgh after 300 years, was not rigid. "If through experience and by consent, we want to adjust the settlement, the machinery is in place," he said.
Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, was more direct. "A new Scotland is being born," he said in a message to SNP candidates for next May's elections. "The destination of our national journey is independence - all that is to be decided is the speed of our progress."
The Queen kept her speech for the opening of the pounds 64m Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh short and uncontroversial. Rounding off the 40-year project on the last St Andrew's Day before home rule, she said the museum would be a "fitting home" for all its 10,000 magnificent objects.
She made no mention of the striking block-house architecture of the building on Chambers Street, nor of whether in telling Scotland's story it bolstered the nationalist cause. Some people have complained there is not enough about the independence heroes William (Braveheart) Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
In short, the Queen said nothing to ruffle Scots sensitivities and upset the finding of an opinion poll published yesterday that anti-English racism is confined to a "tiny fraction" of the population. The ICM poll for The Scotsman newspaper found that only 3 per cent of Scots admitted to "disliking the English a lot"; 67 per cent said they either liked their southern neighbours a lot or "at the least a little".
In his message to SNP candidates, Mr Salmond underlined his belief that independence would be achieved in stages rather than by sudden upheaval - a view so prevalent at the party conference that it attracted the jibe: "We're all evolutionary nationalists now."
George Reid, the SNP's constitutional affairs spokesman, welcomed what he called Labour's "U-turn" and Mr Dewar's acceptance that constitutional change was "a dynamic process".
There was already a consensus for the Parliament to have powers not covered in the Scotland Act, he said. "These include broadcasting, Europe and taxation."
Labour's campaign strategy has been thrown into a quandary by the humiliation in last week's North West Scotland European by-election, when the party came third behind the SNP and the Tories. The SNP hailed the result as proof that "Nat bashing" by Labour was counter-productive, a view shared by many Labour activists in Scotland.
Mr Dewar said it would be "absurd" for a government committed to modernisation to pretend it had the last word on every detail of the constitutional settlement.
Hamish McRae, Review, page 5Reuse content