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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK


UK Politics

Scotland gets Smith's 'settled will'

John Smith, the family man, with his wife and two of his daughters

BBC Scotland News Online's Mick McGlinchey reports.

Wednesday, 12 May, is five years exactly since the death of the then Labour leader John Smith.

And, in a twist of fate, the anniversary coincides with the first sitting of the new Scottish Parliament, which Mr Smith once described in a much-repeated phrase as "the settled will of the Scottish people".

Vote 99 Special Coverage
Tony Blair will mark the occasion in a speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party on the theme of "social justice".

John Smith was Britain's lost Prime Minister, the man who reshaped and redefined the Labour Party.

He was remembered fondly by Donald Dewar, a close friend, as the Scottish Labour leader celebrated his party's victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in the early hours of Friday morning.

Paying tribute to his memory, Mr Dewar said: "I think he would have been very proud to see this happening now, see this parliament elected safely tonight and he would have realised that indeed the central will of the Scottish people was being achieved."

Son of the Highlands

John Smith was a man loved and admired by all who knew him.

He was a personable father-of-three, a churchgoer and son of the Highlands who also possessed a toughness and talent for driving home the political advantage.

His politics were hewn more from the principles instilled by kirk and community than any ideology.


BBC Scotland's Tim Reid reports
That steel is best remembered by those who witnessed his blistering attacks on a failing Tory government in the last years of his life and his confrontation with union leaders over proposals for one member, one vote.

He was a Labour man to the core, joining the party as a schoolboy at Dunoon.

The son of a primary school headmaster, he was brought up with his two sisters in the Highland village of Ardrishaig.

It was at Glasgow University that the young student in law began to earn his political stripes, twice winning the Observer Mace for debating - once with his long-time friend and political colleague Mr Dewar.

Early political failure

His political career, however, got off to an inauspicious start when he failed to win the East Fife seat in 1961.

In 1967 he married Elizabeth Bennett, now Lady Smith, graduated and began his legal training.

In 1970, John Smith became the Member of Parliament for North Lanarkshire.

He rejected the post of Solicitor General for Scotland in 1974 but was appointed a minister of state in Tony Benn's energy department.

In 1976, he became devolution minister as Labour accepted the desire for a form of self government in Scotland and was appointed trade secretary in 1978.

The failiure to achieve devolution in 1979 and the toppling of Jim Callaghan's government meant the beginning of years in opposition but John Smith continued to fight Labour's corner, although he sometimes admitted being frustrated on the opposition benches.

Bridging talent

His talent for bridging divides was sorely tested in the 1980s as Labour was jolted by rifts between right and left, particularly during the bitter miners strike when he was spokesman for energy, employment and trade and industry.

Despite suffering his first heart attack in 1988, a leaner John Smith prevailed and, after the failed attempts by Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock to overthrow Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, he was elected to party leadership in 1992.

A right-winger, his talent for unity was often rewarded, never more notably than in this election when he earned the vote of left-winger Tony Benn.

Always energetic, his public image often failed to do justice to the real John Smith, witty and bright, and with a love of a dram and a song.

But this was also the man, according to friend and Scottish Office Minister Helen Liddell, whose temper could erupt and who "could spot a fool at 10 paces".

He knew winning power would take time but he set about transforming the Labour Party in the eyes of the electorate through an exhausting schedule.

Punishing schedule

John Smith's family home remained in Morningside, Edinburgh, and he was determined to spend every weekend there if possible but this made for a punishing public regimen.

Friends and colleagues said his last days typified his lifestyle - an exhausting round of political and public engagements with European and local government elections on top of parliamentary pressures.

Shadow Cabinet colleague David Blunkett said after John Smith died in London of his second heart attack on 12 May, 1994, he had "given his life" for the party and there is no doubt its demands took their toll.

John Smith's own words proved prophetic: "Power at the top in politics is very funny, people can be destroyed by it. The pressure is relentless."

But friends remember John Smith in his final days as a leader who was smiling and confident, happy to be fulfilling his ambitions.

He was unable to fully realise his dreams in life but five years after his death and burial on Iona, sharing a a final resting place with Scotland's kings, his "settled will" is taking shape.





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