The Scottish people have lost another friend

"The people know that they have lost a friend," Donald Dewar declared in the Cluny church in Edinburgh when he delivered the oration at the funeral of his friend John Smith in 1994. He chose his words, as ever, well, and we cannot improve on them as we reflect on the life of the man who will be remembered for many things, not least his personal integrity, honesty and warmth, but politically, above all, for establishing and securing a new and historic political settlement in Scotland.

"The people know that they have lost a friend," Donald Dewar declared in the Cluny church in Edinburgh when he delivered the oration at the funeral of his friend John Smith in 1994. He chose his words, as ever, well, and we cannot improve on them as we reflect on the life of the man who will be remembered for many things, not least his personal integrity, honesty and warmth, but politically, above all, for establishing and securing a new and historic political settlement in Scotland.

That he was able to realise such an ambition and to serve as Scotland's inaugural First Minister was not a matter of luck. More than any other single figure, it was Donald Dewar, from the referendum campaigns of the 1970s, through the Scottish Constitutional Convention, to the 1997 referendum and the establishment of the reborn Parliament at Holyrood last year, who was responsible for the return of home rule to Scotland. And, uniquely at the top of his party, it was Donald Dewar who actually chose to live up to the rhetoric and abandon Westminster to pursue his political vocation north of the border.

That Mr Dewar was able to do those things was no accident. For he shared many of the beliefs and formidable qualities of John Smith. In a foreword to a recently published collection of Smith's speeches, Mr Dewar wrote affectionately about Smith and, in so doing, revealed much about his own values and humanity. His description of Smith as "no natural phrasemaker" applied equally to the occasionally prolix Dewar. Sometimes dour, he surely shared the view that "we are not put on earth to enjoy ourselves." He also shared Smith's passion for social justice, redistribution of wealth and a vision of a just society.

More important still, and unusually for a Scottish Labour politician, Dewar avoided factionalism and was an instinctive unifier, trusted by most elements in his party. He helped to build the broad coalition behind the movement for Scottish devolution and, when the time came, brought those same conciliatory skills to forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. A lesser leader might easily have failed to pilot a new parliament, a new administration and a new style of politics to safety.

Unlike John Smith, Donald Dewar had the opportunity to serve his country at the highest level. His premiership may have been short, but his political career was long and, to reverse the old adage, ended in success. That is something to bear in mind as the Scottish people, and indeed all of us, remember the friend we have lost.

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