'I'm filled with regret that I didn't spend more time with family'
THE Scottish Parliament's most experienced MSP, Dennis Canavan, spoke emotionally of his regret at not spending more time with his tragedy-hit family as he announced he would stand down at the next election.
The former Labour MP, who lost a second son to cancer three days before Christmas, said he wanted to compensate for the years he had put his job first.
The independent MSP, who recently brought forward a bill to make St Andrew's Day a national holiday, is to give up the rigours of political life to spend more time with his surviving children.
In an emotional open letter to his constituents, the MSP for Falkirk West explained his reasons for stepping down. He wrote: "In 1989, when I lost my son Paul at the age of 16, I thought that was the worst thing that could happen to anyone.
"But recently my family has been hit by more devastating events."
Paul's death from skin cancer was followed by the death in December of Mr Canavan's 35-year-old son, Dennis jnr, after a brain tumour. Mr Canavan also revealed his eldest son, Mark, in Australia, has motor neurone disease.
He continued: "Such family circumstances fill me with regret that, because of my job, I did not spend enough time with my children at an earlier stage in their lives and I feel now I should compensate in some way."
The father of five has left for Australia with his youngest son, Adam, to spend two weeks with Mark and his family. He also said he would be spending more time with his daughter and five grandchildren.
Mr Canavan, 64, had three sons and a daughter by his first marriage, to Elnor. Adam, four, is by his partner Christine Arlow.
Mr Canavan is hoping science will find a cure for motor neurone disease.
He added: "If you believe in the power of prayer, please use it and let us all hope that scientific research will find an answer soon."
He thanked his constituents for their support and said he would continue serving them "to the best of my ability" until the dissolution of parliament.
The former maths teacher began his political career in local politics in Stirling. He was elected to Westminster in 1974 as Labour MP for West Stirlingshire and later for Falkirk West.
With devolution in 1999 he hoped to stand as a Labour candidate for Holyrood, but was rejected by the party.
Donald Dewar, who became First Minister, was said to have considered him "not good enough".
He fought back and won as an independent with the biggest majority of any MSP.
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, led the tributes to his former colleague.
He said: "Dennis Canavan is a man of integrity and honesty and a great parliamentarian. He has made an outstanding contribution to Scotland and to our national life."
Mr McConnell said he had a talent for political debate and an "engaging" manner, most recently demonstrated through his championing of moves to celebrate St Andrew's Day.
"I am certain he will continue to make a great contribution to Scotland outwith parliament," said Mr McConnell. "Dennis has had a particularly tough time recently and I can fully understand his reasons for standing down. I wish Dennis and his family the very best for the future."
Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy leader of the SNP, also paid tribute, saying: "Dennis Canavan's principled political stance has earned him the continued respect of everyone involved in Scottish politics."
Nicol Stephen, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, added: "Denis Canavan has made an important contribution to this parliament. He has represented the Falkirk area since 1974 and has been a strong voice for his constituency for eight years."
Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Tories, said: "Dennis Canavan represents principle and personal courage."
After a great deal of reflection, I have now come to a decision not to stand this year as a candidate for re-election to the Scottish Parliament.
This year I shall be 65 and I have had the honour of being a representative of the people for a third of a century. During that period, I have been fortunate in enjoying good health, but sadly that has not been the case for some of my children.
In 1989, when I lost my son, Paul, at the age of 16, I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone, but recently my family has been hit by more devastating events. As you may be aware, Paul's brother, Dennis, died last month and my oldest son, Mark, is on the other side of the world suffering from motor neurone disease, for which there is no known cure. If you believe in the power of prayer, please use it and let us all hope that scientific research will find an answer soon.
Such family circumstances fill me with regret that, because of my job, I did not spend enough time with my children at an earlier stage in their lives and I feel that I should now compensate in some way.
My youngest son, Adam, who will be starting school this year, is a healthy, happy child and I sometimes wonder what I would do without him.
I am also blessed with a loving daughter and five wonderful grandchildren.
Over the last few months, I have learned a lot about the value and real priorities of life, and today Adam and I are leaving for Australia for two weeks to spend some time with Mark and his family.
Yours sincerely, Dennis Canavan, MSP
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