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Donald Dewar Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Donald Dewar: Obituary
Donald Dewar in Edinburgh
Mr Dewar died at the pinnacle of his career
In May 1999 Donald Dewar became the first minister of the first Scottish Parliament in almost 300 years.

It secured for him a place in history and represented a true high point in his long political career.

But in his last 18 months it was not all plain sailing.

As the new power house north of the border approached the end of its first turbulent year, Mr Dewar learned he would need major heart surgery.

He took three months off from the cut-and-thrust of politics, but was soon eagerly back behind his desk.

He enjoyed chamber debate
On his return he looked understandably thinner, more drawn and a little less steady.

But despite the state of the 63-year-old's health, and its implication for his political future, it did not diminish the respect he had achieved from both inside and outside his party.

It was most evident at the end of September when Mr Dewar delivered a keynote speech to the Labour Party conference in Brighton in which he was called upon to defend the embattled UK Chancellor and fellow Scot Gordon Brown.

His political standing was based on decades of loyal service to the Labour Party.

Law graduate

But Mr Dewar was not a typical Labour man - he was born in Glasgow on 21 August 1937 into a middle class family, the son of the late Dr Alisdair Dewar.

The young Donald attended Glasgow Academy and went on to Glasgow University where he studied law and was president of the union between 1961 and 1962.

In 1964 he married Alison McNair and they had two children - a son and a daughter.

Delightful company, with a wit which occasionally veered towards biting, Donald Dewar comfortably blended contradictions

Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland's political editor
But the couple divorced in 1973 when she left him for the now Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, a university friend of Mr Dewar's.

He never remarried and although close to his children, he entered the Commons in 1966 and made politics his life.

Between 1966 and 1970 he was the MP for Aberdeen South, but he lost that notoriously marginal seat and spent eight years in law practice before victory in the 1978 Glasgow Garscadden by-election returned him to parliament.

Mr Dewar's first notable public role came in 1967 when he was made PPS to the president of the board of trade.

And during Labour's wilderness years, he served as member of the shadow cabinet between 1984 to 1997.

Chief whip

After party leader Neil Kinnock lost the 1992 general election, Mr Dewar moved to the UK portfolio of social security - then the key post of opposition chief whip in the run-up to victory in 1997.

His loyalty on the opposition frontbench was rewarded and when Tony Blair's New Labour came to power Mr Dewar was given the job as secretary of state for Scotland.

It was a role he enjoyed and one with a clear purpose - to help create the first Scottish Parliament in almost 300 years.

He won his Scottish Parliament seat of Glasgow Anniesland by a 10,993 majority and was more than happy to take a back seat at his political home of Westminster.

Donald Dewar
A politician of the old school
But when the parliament north of the border opened in May 1999 it marked the start of an extremely testing period.

Mr Dewar, a skilled parliamentarian more used to a fixing and disciplining role behind the scenes, was thrown into the limelight.

It appeared almost immediately that he was dealing with problems.

His new administration was soon embroiled in an access-to-ministers scandal and he became the ready-made punchbag for the over-budget, over-deadline Holyrood project.

By Mr Dewar's own admission, the first year was "towsy".

Debating skills

But he coped well and blossomed at first minister's questions - the weekly jousting session involving the then SNP Leader Alex Salmond.

He had an astute legal brain, had fierce, fast and formidable debating skills and enjoyed squaring up to the opposition benches.

Donald Dewar
Mr Dewar enjoyed his role
Two of the most heated issues which surfaced during the parliament's first year - the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of tuition fees - came to a head while he was recuperating after heart surgery.

In typical style, Mr Dewar played down the seriousness of the operation to replace a leaky heart valve.

Despite being just two years off becoming a pensioner, he was determined to resume his key role in politics.

The operation went as planned in May this year and the politician of the old style returned to his desk in the middle of August in buoyant mood but looking a shadow of his former self.

'Devolution's father'

BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor said that throughout his career, Mr Dewar won the respect of opponents, the admiration of the public, the dedicated loyalty of colleagues, the love of friends and, latterly, the devoted support of civil servants.

He added: "Delightful company, with a wit which occasionally veered towards biting, Donald Dewar comfortably blended contradictions.

"Passions ranged from high culture to football. A brilliant debater, his speech mannerisms were frequently satirised.

"The unwary would occasionally style Donald Dewar the Father of the Nation - a title he laughingly disowned with customary self-deprecation.

"But, in any event, devolution's father has had an achingly short time with his political child."

Political editor Brian Taylor
"He was delightful company and he had a wit which was often biting"
Click on the stories to find out more

Key stories

The tributes

Filling the void


See also:

11 Oct 00 | Scotland
01 Feb 00 | Scotland
30 Jan 00 | Scotland
13 Dec 99 | Scotland
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