DONALD Dewar is viewed by many as the founding father of devolution but an iconic portrait of Scotland’s inaugural first minister has had to be removed from public view in the Holyrood parliament after a vandal defaced the exhibit by scrawling the initials “JC” on the frame of the work.
However, there was speculation at Holryood about who the mysterious “JC” could be and whether the scribbler had intended it to promote the campaign of left wing Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn – not exactly a natural ally of the more “New Labour minded” Dewar.
The oil on canvas portrait was painted by Killearn-artist Anne H Mackintosh soon after Labour’s 1997 general election landslide, when Dewar was returned as the MP for Glasgow Anniesland and appointed as Tony Blair’s secretary of state for Scotland – tasked with delivering the 1997 devolution referendum that paved the way for the Scottish Parliament.
Dewar posed for the portrait during two sittings with the artist who also used video footage of the Labour politician to complete the painting in 1998.
However, the portrait, gifted to the parliament by Dewar’s children after his death, has been removed after cleaning staff spotted the letters “JC” in highly visible black ink on the frame.
Officials suspect the gold-coloured-gilt frame of the portrait of Dewar, who died in 2000 less than 18 months into devolution, was damaged by a visitor to the parliament rather than anyone working in the building.
The vandalism means Dewar’s painting has had to be removed from its spot outside the parliament’s members’ restaurant, close to the debating chamber, and will not be on show during Holyrood’s annual Festival of Politics this month.
Politicians across the political divide were puzzled as to who the “JC” scrawled on Dewar’s portrait frame could be, but were agreed that the former First Minister would not have been a supporter of Mr Corbyn, who polls suggest could be on course for a shock victory in Labour’s leadership election. Labour MSP Richard Baker said: “We can only guess which JC it is meant to be, but if it is meant to be Jeremy Corbyn, it’s fair to say that Jeremy and Donald’s politics are pretty far apart.
“I’m sure that no serious supporter of Jeremy would deface a portrait of Donald Dewar.”
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said it was unlikely that Mr Corbyn’s supporters would use a portrait of a key figure from the Blair years to promote their candidate.
He said: “We have to be suspicious of everyone with the letters JC, but in this Machiavellian age it could be that it was done by some rogue supporters of the rivals of Jeremy Corbyn.”
Dewar’s portrait was put on public view alongside one of the SNP’s Winnie Ewing, but is now in storage at the parliament while staff arrange to have it sent away for repair work.
Parliament officials said it was hoped that the image of the former first minister would be back in parliament when MSPs return from the summer recess next month. The cost of repairing the damage is not yet known.