Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 13:10 UK

The colourful MSP calls it a day

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Throughout his 33-year political career as a councillor, MP and MSP Dennis Canavan is sure to be remembered as one of the most colourful politicians to grace the halls of Holyrood.

Dennis Canavan
Dennis Canavan decided not to seek re-election to Holyrood in 2007

Courting praise and controversy in equal measure, the former maths teacher, who stepped down as Falkirk West's charismatic independent MSP before last year's Holyrood election, was also a key figure in several pieces of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Born in Cowdenbeath in 1942, Mr Canavan made his Westminster debut when he became an MP in 1974 for the old West Stirlingshire constituency, following a brief stint as Labour leader of Stirling Council.

He came to the fore as a parliamentarian on his own soil following the first Holyrood election where he won the Falkirk West seat with a majority of 12,192.

But the victory did not come easily. He was forced to stand as an independent when he failed to be selected as an official Labour candidate.

Mr Canavan later claimed the late Labour First Minister Donald Dewar actively tried to prevent some MPs going to Holyrood through a "a rigged selection system headed by mediocre stooges".

But once in, Mr Canavan was seen as both a keen supporter of devolution and a popular constituency MSP.

Mr Canavan hit out at Scotland's football authorities for "turning a blind eye" to anti-Irish racism.

He gained recognition for his successful amendments to the parliament's landmark right-to-roam legislation to extend access to the Queen's estates and his bill to make St Andrew's Day one for national celebration was passed.

But a compromise with ministers to make 30 November a voluntary public holiday, instead of a full public holiday came after a previous, ill-tempered debate on the bill, during which Mr Canavan proclaimed that: "John Knox must be burling in his grave at such a perverse interpretation of the work ethic."

Mr Canavan also campaigned on several issues in his Falkirk West constituency, including his attempts to soften the blow of job cuts at the sweet maker McCowan's when it went into receivership.

On the fourth of his famous attempts to become Scottish first minister, Mr Canavan's speech focused on his campaign to have Falkirk Football Club promoted to the Scottish Premier League for winning the First Division title.

But denial of the promotion, following a ruling that the club did not meet stadium criteria requirements, was branded by Mr Canavan as "an absolute disgrace", and one which threatened to bring the game into disrepute.

'National scandal'

He also hit out at Scotland's football authorities for "turning a blind eye" to anti-Irish racism.

"Is it not a national scandal?" he asked.

However, Mr Canavan, who was re-elected in 2003 with a majority of 10,000, was hit with a series of personal tragedies.

In 1989, the father-of-five lost his first son, Paul, to skin cancer and in 2006, his 35-year-old son Dennis died of a brain tumour.

His oldest son, Mark, died in Australia at the age of 41 in March 2007, after a three-year battle with motor neurone disease.

Mr Canavan said that, after being taught a valuable lesson in life's "real priorities" he decided not to seek re-election.

His contribution to public life was honoured when Falkirk Council decided to set up a new educational scholarship in his name.

video and audio news
Dennis Canavan explains his decision

Canavan will not fight election
23 Jan 07 |  Tayside and Central
Dennis Canavan: Constituency letter
23 Jan 07 |  Tayside and Central

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