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Donald Dewar Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Dewar's death leaves huge gulf
Donald Dewar with the Queen and Lord Steel
Donald Dewar at the height of his powers
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

Donald Dewar was without doubt one of the true gentlemen in British politics.

He held passionate beliefs, particularly over devolution, and would express them, with real force.

But he never allowed his passion to stray into personal abuse.


He was a hugely intelligent and educated man, but was never flashy with it

He was deeply opposed to the SNP and, during the devolution campaign, let his anger show on many occasions.

But never once did he attack individuals or allow his opposition to become abusive.

As a result he had many friends on all sides of the political divide, and precious few enemies.

He was a hugely intelligent and educated man, but was never flashy with it.

His lean, dour appearance often saw him wrongly characterised as grey and uncharismatic.

In fact he was extremely witty and was always good company.

Realistic but no cynic

He had the knack of being able to express a realistic view of politics and politicians, without allowing it to stray into cynicism.

He never allowed the "trappings of power" to go to his head and remained an essentially modest and self-effacing man.

One once occasion during the election campaign, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam paid a campaigning visit to his constituency.

As the pair emerged from the Labour battle bus, Mo was immediately mobbed by the crowd all of whom appeared to want to hug or kiss her.

Mr Dewar was unceremoniously elbowed aside and left as a bystander witnessing the extraordinary reception for Dr Mowlam.

Not once did he appear put out or snubbed, instead he gradually pushed his way to the centre of the melee - so he could act as Dr Mowlam's escort and introduce her to the crowd.

His death will not only leave a huge hole at the centre of Scottish politics - which he has dominated for years - but also at the heart of the Labour Party.

Safe pair of hands

He was certainly from the moderate wing of the party and was hugely loyal to the leadership, which could always rely on him as a safe pair of hands.

As a result he was given a number of sensitive jobs, most notably as chief whip.

It is a job that often requires the nastiest of political skills - the willingness to bully, threaten and punish wayward backbenchers.

Mr Dewar approached it differently, bringing his formidable powers of logic and reasoned argument to bear.

That is not to suggest he was a soft touch and there are many MPs who emerged from meetings with him feeling distinctly the worse for wear.

His great friend was former leader John Smith and, like him, he had the ability to attract support from all wings of the party.

Devolution was the dream

His dream had always been to see a devolved parliament in Scotland and it was partly due to his absolute commitment to the proposal that devolution went ahead as quickly as it did.

And it was certainly his untiring efforts which saw off an unexpectedly powerful challenge from the nationalists.

Many believe without Mr Dewar's tireless campaigning, the SNP may even have pulled off a real coup and won the election.

As it was they still managed to deny Labour an overall majority but Mr Dewar used all his political skills to forge a deal with the Liberals to create a coalition government.

The election campaign clearly exhausted him and the political manoeuvrings which followed were also a huge strain.

His death lands Labour with the real problem of finding a successor with anything like the stature of Mr Dewar.

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See also:

11 Oct 00 | Scotland
11 Oct 00 | Scotland
11 Oct 00 | Scotland
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