Donald Dewar: Scottish Parliament’s founding father

Donald Dewar was the man who delivered devolution and became tagged “Father of the Nation” – but he hated the title.

Naturally modest and under-stated, he greeted Prime Minister Tony Blair after the historic vote in favour of a Scottish Parliament with the words: “Satisfactory, I think.”
Dewar went on to become Scotland’s first First Minister, but tragically died after just 18 months in the job, aged 63.

Born in Glasgow, the only child of elderly parents, he went to fee-paying Glasgow Academy, which he disliked.

It was at Glasgow University – where he was famously part of a generation of future politicians which included John Smith and Ming Campbell – that he developed his debating skills and a taste for politics.

He first became an MP at the age of 28 when he won Aberdeen South from the Tories in the 1966 general election. But he lost the seat at the next election and did not return to the Commons until he won the Glasgow Garscadden by-election in 1978 – just over a year before Labour lost power to Margaret Thatcher. Dewar spent most of his Westminster career on the opposition benches. But when Labour did return to government in 1997 he was appointed Scottish Secretary.

He quickly produced a White Paper on a Scottish Parliament with tax-raising powers and successfully campaigned alongside SNP and Liberal Democrat leaders for a Yes Yes vote in the devolution referendum in September that year.

At the first devolution elections in 1999 he became Scotland’s first First Minister.

His Cabinet appointments included several people who were completely new to elected office, among them Sarah Boyack, who was put in charge of transport and environment.

Boyack says: “I remember him saying he wanted fresh faces, fresh thinking, it was a fresh institution and we had to mould it from the start. It was a huge responsibility he gave us.

“Donald was totally committed to making the parliament live up to people’s expectations.

“As a new Cabinet minister I found him extremely supportive We did a lot of radical things in the first term and he was keen to let us get on with it.

“He was encouraging us to make the most of these new powers

“If we wanted to introduce a radical policy he would say it was up to us to bring in the evidence.

“He was a really smart, witty guy and incredibly hard-working.

“He never gave the impression he was looking after himself, but anything that involved going for a curry with colleagues he was totally up for.”

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