Tavish Scott: McLetchie, an adversary and a friend

David McLetchie was quite an adversary. He and I were part of the dwindling band of MSPs first elected in 1999 to the reconvened Scottish Parliament. He led the Scottish Tories into that first election.

Former Scottish Conservative leader David McCletchie. Picture: Getty

The irony of Tory members in a parliament elected by a proportional system of voting opposed by the Conservatives was not lost on David. We were on opposite sides of the political divide.

As a Liberal Democrat, I was involved in Scottish coalition government produced by the electoral system. David was a first-past-the-post man. He was scathing about the arrangement between Labour and the Lib Dems. Years later I asked him what he made of the Cameron-Clegg arrangement after the 2010 UK government was formed. His reply was suitably forthright.

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But apart from politics, sport was our shared interest and golf in particular. David was captain of the MSPs’ parliamentary golf team. Once a year we would play the parliamentary journalists. David would cajole a Scottish club to host this nail-biting contest. After the match we would share a meal together where golf, sport and politics were liberally discussed. The highlight of the evening was David’s speech were he dissected the ties played, who was up or down and then presented the trophy to himself! Yes, the MSP team has conquered the press more often than not. It was a victory highly prized by the cross-party group of members and no more so than David.

I really got to know David on a memorable train journey to Inverness. Jamie Stone, then the far north MSP, had arranged for the match to play Skibo Castle north of the Dornoch Firth. So it was agreed that we would take the train. I shared a table with David and others. A breakdown occurred somewhere south of Aviemore. GNER, the then-operator, suddenly realised they had a carriage full of politicians and even more worryingly, journalists. Wine and food were produced.

The breakdown was soon forgotten and, over the course of a very leisurely journey to the Highland capital, I got to know a highly entertaining yet deeply thoughtful politician. That trip broke down more party barriers than ever before. People who denounced each other across parliament became good friends. That was David.

He and I vigorously debated politics. But there were no better moments than discussing why Tom Watson had not quite pulled off an astonishing victory in the 2009 Open and Turnberry. Or the merits of Muirfield’s course. Or even the ownership of his beloved Hearts.

I last saw him in his Edinburgh home in the advanced stages of his illness. The Masters had been on the TV. We talked through the excitement of the play-off. But David wanted to hear the Parliamentary gossip. How were the leaders doing against the FM? Were there any juicy scandals? He was a politician and a Conservative to his roots but far more than that he was a friend, on and off the golf course. I will miss him.

• Tavish Scott is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland.