In death, Dewar unites fractious Scottish tribes

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Indy Politics

For Ruth Wishart, a long-standing friend of Donald Dewar, the Thanksgiving service for the former First Minister offered an unusual opportunity - "the chance to pay tribute to him without being heckled by him".

For Ruth Wishart, a long-standing friend of Donald Dewar, the Thanksgiving service for the former First Minister offered an unusual opportunity - "the chance to pay tribute to him without being heckled by him".

She wasn't the only speaker to allude to Mr Dewar's sometimes scathing wit at yesterday's funeral ceremony in Glasgow Cathedral - Gordon Brown, who gave the main eulogy, later affectionately recalled the "breathtaking directness" with which Mr Dewar would engage with his electors.

Nor was she the only one to have half an eye on the sardonic and deflating wit Mr Dewar might have cast over this gathering in his honour.

Welcoming guests to the service, the Reverend Douglas Alexander felt it necessary to "keep faith with the integrity of Donald" by acknowledging the "bemused tolerance" with which his own faith had been treated by his old friend. Visiting him in hospital some years ago, he told the congregation, he had been invited to sit on the end of

Mr Dewar's bed, as long as it was understood that this didn't offer "any kind of licence to say prayers over me".

It's safe to guess, then, that Donald Dewar might have smiled wryly at the more extravagant pieties of this ceremony. But as an astute politician he might also have recognised that death had not terminated the services he could offer to his party and his country. This was a day for Mr Dewar to set an example - of integrity and unity - to colleagues who have probably felt a little short of both in the last few weeks. It was a day for him to be remembered, the Reverend Alexander concluded, with "reverence, affection... and", the perfect Labour quality, "solidarity".

Glasgow's The Herald had described the occasion as a "state-like funeral", a nice coinage for a ceremony which had ruled out protocol in favour of a modest informality.

The cathedral was simply dressed with arum lilies and green foliage and the plain wooden coffin left the cathedral topped with a single red rose. In the congregation precedence had been abandoned for all but a very few - Prince Charles arriving alone shortly after the Prime Minister and his wife, and shortly before Mr Dewar's children, promoted by the intimacy of their loss. The canteen ladies who had made his bacon rolls in the morning sat alongside senior ministers, parliamentary messengers alongside the media stars. But, like a real state funeral, the occasion had also concentrated power between the high perpendiculars of Glasgow Cathedral, focusing the Scottish diaspora back in a single spot.

Scottish politicians of all parties were present - Charles Kennedy and Alex Salmond, along with Labour's own Caledonian grouping: Robin Cook, Gordon Brown, George Robertson and Lord Irvine, arriving with his wife, formerly Mrs Dewar. Old Labour stalwarts - Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley - testified to Mr Dewar's long history in the party and recent opponents - William Hague and others - to the breadth of the affection for him.

The Prime Minister took the reading from Isaiah without heavy, melodramatic pauses - and that tone of measured sadness was representative of the whole occasion. Gordon Brown might almost have been on the hustings, so firm and passionate was his manner, insisting that Mr Dewar's virtues were very much Labour virtues, not just human ones.

He praised the "matchless constancy of purpose" with which he had established Scottish devolution, and his "simple and unshakeable belief that poverty was wrong". It was that constancy that had kept him working when other politicians might have rested, he implied, and which could offer an example to colleagues of less pure ambition: "Let his inspiration now lead us forward," he concluded.

As the coffin was carried from the cathedral a fiddle and accordion played - first a Scottish folk tune, then Jerusalem and, after Mr Blair had gone, the Internationale. Other tunes had moved the congregation, but this one, quite unexpectedly, made them hum - a strange, tentative murmur of shared feeling. It was then that you realised that, for all the dignitaries and the scope of the television coverage, this was at heart a family affair.

It wasn't just Mr Dewar's close relatives who were saying goodbye, but a much larger and more extended tribe - the Scottish Labour movement, Old and New.