Popular first minister who had championed cause of devolution

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Donald Dewar travelled a long and eventful road to become Scotland's First Minister.

Donald Dewar travelled a long and eventful road to become Scotland's First Minister.

Much of his 33-year political career was devoted to the cause of devolution and his pride in the Scotland Act, passed in 1998, was palpable.

He often echoed the words of his close friend, the late Labour leader John Smith, in describing a devolved Parliament as the "settled will of the Scottish people".

His reign as Secretary of State for Scotland had its ups and downs.

After the September 1997 referendum, Mr Dewar's personal ratings dipped amid charges that he was ineffectual in the face of an SNP onslaught, but his successful stewardship of the Scotland Act restored his reputation.

In the closing stages of the campaign for the Scottish Parliament he emerged as a major asset to Labour, with the party stressing his experience and presenting him as a steady hand on the tiller vital to Scotland's stability.

He soared above the SNP's Alex Salmond as the voters choice of First Minister.

Despite his undoubted passions, the Glasgow University-educated lawyer rarely displayed them in public.

He was a formidable debater and regarded as one of the cleverest men in government, but his tendency towards a stiff, matter-of-fact tone earned him the nickname "Donald Dour".

Away from the cameras the tall, gangling politician was markedly more relaxed and disarming, even avuncular, as he unleashed a keen sense of humour.

Born on August 21, 1937, the man known as "The Gannet" because of his prodigious appetite first entered Parliament in 1966 as MP for Aberdeen South, but was defeated in 1970.

He returned to the law before winning his current seat, now named Glasgow Anniesland, in 1978.

Mr Dewar served the party as Shadow Scottish Secretary under Neil Kinnock for 11 years before John Smith handed him the Social Security portfolio.

After Mr Smith's death, Tony Blair sprung a surprise, making Mr Dewar Opposition Chief Whip, but the appointment was widely regarded as a success.

As Secretary of State for Scotland he successfully led the referendum campaign in 1997 before shepherding the Scotland Bill through Westminster to deliver the Scottish Parliament.

However, his reign as First Minister was dogged by controversial issues and he met with criticism, sometimes from within his own party, over his performance in the post.

The first term of the new Scottish Parliament brought the Section 28 debate, strong criticism over the deal on student tuition fees, and problems over the cost of the new Parliament building.

However, it was the Executive's pledge to repeal the law on the promotion of homosexuality in schools which brought the first major test of Mr Dewar's leadership since the advent of devolution.

There was a vocal Keep the Clause campaign, headed by Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter, which raised the issue to the top of the Scottish political agenda with a private referendum on the issue.

Privately, some Labour MPs at Westminster fretted at what was happening in Edinburgh and there were mutters over Mr Dewar's stewardship of the party in Scotland.

But after a hard fought campaign the Executive won the day on Section 28, although only after some concessions.

It was during the first term of the new Parliament that Mr Dewar was admitted to hospital for the heart operation.

On his return to work in August he was thrust into the exams crisis after thousands of students received incomplete, late and inaccurate results in Highers, Standard Grades and Intermediate exams.

Mr Dewar faced repeated calls to sack his education minister Sam Galbraith, but he refused to heed them.

In the midst of the exams fiasco he was faced with the fuel crisis which saw pickets at Scotland's only oil refinery at Grangemouth, and petrol stations across Scotland running dry.

Another millstone for the First Minister was the new Parliament building at Holyrood, dubbed "Donald's Dome".

Before his death, costs for the building were reported to have reached £230 million from an original estimate of £50 million.

It was Mr Dewar who gave the go-ahead for the project before devolution while he was Scottish Secretary at Westminster.

Then, in the final weeks before his death he was faced with opinion polls that showed the Scottish National Party neck and neck with Labour for the first time in two decades on voting intentions for Westminster elections.

Away from politics, Mr Dewar relaxed at home in the West End of Glasgow surrounded by his vast collection of books - he is said to have a particular enthusiasm for Scottish history and rare first editions.

The father-of-two remained single after his wife Alison left him for the now Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, a university friend of Mr Dewar, more than 20 years ago.