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Sunday, April 11, 1999 Published at 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK


Holyrood: John Smith's 'unfinished business'

John Smith with his wife and daughters Jane and Sarah

BBC Scotland's Parliamentary correspondent David Porter reports on John Smith's legacy to devolution

It was the former Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who famously once said: ''Events, events dear boy''.

He was talking about the things politicians can't cater for. Of course he was right.

By definition, one thing our elected representatives and their spin doctors can't legislate for is the unexpected.

When on 12 May, 129 newly elected MSPs gather in Edinburgh for the first meeting of a Scottish Parliament in almost 300 years, there will be more than a few who will cast a thought to Harold Macmillan's famous quote.

No doubt they will be thinking how events have shaped their own lives. But some will also be pondering how quickly things can change.


[ image: John Smith is buried on Iona]
John Smith is buried on Iona
Had events taken a different course, and he had not died of a heart attack, John Smith may have be there as a Labour prime minister.

He would have been proud of what had happened. His death five years ago robbed devolution of one of its most ardent supporters.

It's one of those curious coincidences that the fifth anniversary of John Smith's death falls on the very same day that the new Scottish Parliament will meet for the first time.

Much has happened in the intervening years. Tony Blair was elected to follow John Smith as Labour leader. He continued the modernisation of the party begun under his predecessor, culminating in Labour's election landslide two years ago.

The size of that victory guaranteed that Labour would be able to honour its commitment to devolution, a law-making parliament for Scotland and assemblies for Wales and Northern Ireland.

'Settled will'

If Mr Smith is looking down on events in the Assembly Hall on 12 May, I'm sure he'll have a smile of satisfaction on his face.

He was a lifelong advocate of home rule, once describing it as ''unfinished business''. In another memorable phrase, he said devolution was "the settled will of the Scottish people".

He would also be pleased to see his friend Donald Dewar playing an such an important role.

The two were friends from their days together at Glasgow University.


[ image: Lady Elizabeth:  Low-profile since her husband's death]
Lady Elizabeth: Low-profile since her husband's death
Depending on the verdict of the voters, Mr Dewar, who piloted the devolution legislation through Westminster, could well be attending the ceremony at the Assembly Hall as Scotland's first minister - in effect Scotland's prime minister.

Of course Labour may not win, but whoever you speak to in Scottish political life, nobody expects Mr Dewar to be absent.

It also raises the question of should anything be done to honour John Smith's memory. Most people expect that if Donald Dewar becomes first minister he would dearly love to be able to do something to recognise the role played by his friend and colleague.

After his death, John Smith's widow Elizabeth accepted a seat in the Lords. She has determinedly kept out of the limelight in the past five years and has not commented on the way the Labour Party has changed since her husand's death.

But there is no doubt that she would be touched if the role played by John Smith in creating a new Scotland was recognised publicly.





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