Mourners feel the chill wind of loss: John Arlidge reports on the funeral of John Smith which was attended by his family and politicians from the left and the right across Europe

John Arlidge
Friday 20 May 1994 23:02

Politicians from across Europe honoured John Smith at the late Labour leader's funeral in Edinburgh yesterday. Elizabeth Smith, Mr Smith's widow, and their three daughters led 900 mourners, including present and former prime ministers, who gathered in Cluny Parish Church, where Mr Smith worshipped for 30 years.

Outside the church near Mr Smith's Morningside home, 2,000 people from as far away as Cornwall stood in a chill easterly wind, listening to the memorial service relayed by loudspeaker. Thanksgiving services were also held in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and London.

In Edinburgh, the hymns and readings reflected the life of a patriotic Scot, who loved the Highlands and said he wanted to be the first prime minister born and bred in Argyllshire. Mourners sang 'I to the Hills Will Lift Mine Eyes' and 'Courage Brother, Do not Stumble'. The 23rd Psalm, 'The Lord is My Shepherd', was heard in Gaelic.

The Rev George Munro, who conducted the service, said natural elements 'were so mixed in John Smith that nature might stand up and say to all the world: This was a man'.

Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman and one of Mr Smith's oldest political friends, paid a personal tribute.

'People know they have lost a friend, someone who was on their side,' he said. Mr Smith 'did not command, he earned respect'.

James Gordon, managing director of Radio Clyde, who met Mr Smith when he was a student at Glasgow University and was best man at his wedding, praised his political achievements. He had, he said, 'prepared himself and Labour for power'.

John Smith 'would have sacrificed anything other than his family or religious beliefs for the Labour Party . . . he was one of us, not one of them.' His achievements 'filled the nation with the sense of the cruelty and injustice of death, taking someone in his prime who was poised to achieve the highest office in the land.'

Guests at the service included former political foes as well as leading Labour politicians from Britain and Europe. John Major, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, and Sir Norman Fowler, the Tory chairman, joined members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Prescott, the main leadership contenders.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, and Willy Claes, the Belgian deputy prime minister, sat alongside two former prime ministers, Sir Edward Heath and Michel Rocard of France. The Queen was represented by Lord Callaghan, the former Labour prime minister, and the Prince of Wales by Lord Morris, the Opposition deputy chief whip in the Upper House.

Outside the church, Essex man wept alongside Morningside ladies. John Gurnett, 52, a delivery man from Grays, near Basildon, said he had driven 450 miles to Edinburgh 'just to say 'goodbye' and 'thank you' to a rare leader who gave us hope.

'Throughout the country, from Edinburgh to the South-east of England, everyone is shocked,' he said. 'We all knew that John Smith was the man who would have turned the country round. And for him to pass away so young, before he had chance to show us what he could do is tragic.'

Ernest Tolcher, 65, of Cornwall, said he had come to pay tribute to 'a good Scots Presbyterian who would have restored the moral values of the nation and made our country a fine place for the weak, the poor and the infirm'.

Office workers left for lunch early and schoolchildren took time off from exams to pay their respects. Sophie Gerrard, 16, from George Watson's College said: 'John Smith came to our school and he related well to young people. Everyone knew him around here, you even saw him in Safeway's. Today is just so sad.'

Mr Smith's family had requested that no flowers be sent but friends from Ardrishaig, Mr Smith's home village on the shores of Loch Gilp, and dignatories, including Mr Major, sent floral tributes which were placed beneath a cherry tree in front of the church. One message read: 'A good man, a good socialist. Socialism's loss.' Another read: 'Your country misses you. Our sincere and deepest sympathy. God Bless.'

After the funeral and a reception at Edinburgh's Parliament House, the coffin was taken by road and ferry to the Hebridean island of Iona, the traditional burial ground of Scottish kings. This morning, John Smith's wife, Elizabeth, and their daughters Sarah, 25, Jane, 23 and Catherine, 21, will lay him to rest in a private ceremony there.

(Photographs omitted)

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