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Scottish `bon viveur and raconteur' dies

Beleaguered Scottish Tories face a tough by-election challenge after the death of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the maverick MP for Perth and Kinross.

Sir Nicholas, who was 61 and had been ill for several years, died in hospital in Dunfermline near his home late on Saturday night.

He will be remembered as one of Britain's most colourful and irreverent politicians. MPs said yesterday that the House of Commons would be "a duller place" without him.

His death reduces to 10 the number of Tory MPs north of the border, the lowest-yet figure. Coming as it does after the resignation earlier this month of Allan Stewart, the Scottish Office minister, Sir Nicholas's loss is a severe blow to the Government. With a majority of 2,000 votes, the by-election in Perthcould prove humiliating. The Scottish National Party is well-placed to capture the seat.

Sir Nicholas QC entered Parliament in 1974. Distinctive in the tartan clothes he designed himself, he charmed and infuriated friends and opponents alike with his dry wit and plain speaking. He described himself as a "bon viveur and raconteur" who enjoyed "growling, prowling, scowling and owling".

Scotland's solicitor-general from 1979 to 1982, he scandalised the legal establishment when he described women as "tauntresses" who should not be granted anonymity in rape trials. He recently urged John Major to quit, describing him as a "softie" who was "more like a ventriloquist's dummy than a prime minister".

MPs paid tribute to him yesterday. Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, praised him as a great parliamentarian. "Scotland is the poorer for his passing," he said. Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat MP, said he was "one of the most outstanding, if quixotic, legal and political talents of his generation."

George Robertson, Labour's Scottish spokesman, praised his "style which left a strong mark on Scottish politics". Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said: "Above all, Nicky was an individualist...a very Scottish character. He will be remembered with a great deal of affection."

Sir Nicholas will be buried in the crypt at St Theriot's Chapel at Fordell Castle, where he and his wife, Lady Sam Fairbairn, lived. He had three daughters. A memorial service will be held in St John's Church in Perth.

Obituary, page 12