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Legacy of a leader; DONALD DEWAR 1937-2000: DEBT WE OWE TO FATHER OF NATION.

Byline: Magnus Gardham

DONALD Dewar's statue looks down Glasgow's Buchanan Street with the kindly yet quizzical gaze typical of the man.

It has become a much-loved tribute to Scotland's first First Minister, dubbed Father of the Nation, since generous Record readers paid for it to be put up.

But this week passers-by will have more reason to pause at the 9ft bronze likeness and remember him.

Dewar died 10 years ago today after a fall outside his Bute House official residence in Edinburgh, as he battled to recover from heart surgery four months earlier.

His sudden, untimely death robbed Scotland of one of the leading politicians of his generation.

Dewar, after years of frustration and struggle, achieved a lifelong ambition to create a Scottish parliament.

But he served as an MSP and First Minister for only 16 months.

And friends believe history might have been different had he lived longer.

They are sure Dewar had no plans to quit frontline politics, even after surgery to repair a leaking heart valve, and he was determined to lead Labour into the 2003 election.

Some believe Dewar would have served half that parliament, stepping down around 2005 to give a successor time to establish themselves.

Who knows who that might have been? Henry McLeish might still have had a claim to the top job and Jack McConnell would have been a strong contender.

Elderly

But Scotland may have had its first woman First Minister in Dewar's former researcher, Wendy Alexander.

If McLeish had been passed over, it's unlikely that one of Holyrood's most iconic policies - free personal care for the elderly - would have been passed.

It was the former Fife MSP who persuaded his party to back it even though many colleagues privately believed it was unaffordable.

McLeish was forced out by the Officegate row in 2001 after it was revealed that he broke the rules over sub-letting his office as an MP.

It was an embarrassing affair for a parliament still finding its feet and he was replaced by Jack McConnell. All these what-ifs assume Dewar would have come out on top in the 2003 Holyrood poll.

His political pals are in no doubt - as the Nationalists under John Swinney were not the force they would become after Alex Salmond's return in 2004.

However, even they admit the Holyrood building fiasco would have been a millstone around his neck.

Dewar promised a pounds 40million building - but made many of the key decisions which resulted in a final bill in excess of pounds 400million.

As the inquiry into the scandal later found, he felt it was his duty to leave the country a fitting parliament building.

But that did nothing to lessen public fury as costs soared.

David Whitton, who as Dewar's spokesman broke the tragic news of his death, insists Holyrood is only a tiny part of his legacy.

He said: "I believe Scotand has enjoyed a new confidence since the parliament was created in 1999. We've lost a lot of the girn.

"We are living in a new Scotland. A lot of that is down to Donald.

"It is the effect of having our own decision-making body and that is Donald's real legacy.

"Whether you like the look of the building that now sits at the end of the Royal Mile is irrelevant."

Friends and family are rightly proud of Dewar's career.

But they are sad he died before seeing his greatest achievement come to fruition - or being able to enjoy old age.

Dewar never worked in the building he championed.

He only met one of his four grandchildren and didn't even move into a new Glasgow flat where he planned to surround himself with books and art.

Daughter Marion, who works for the European Commission in Brussels, said in a BBC interview marking the 10th anniversary of her father's death: "Part of the sadness for me was that he was far too young. He was only 63. He appeared, albeit slowly, to recover. We didn't expect at all that he would die."

And recalling the "extraordinary" outpouring of grief at his funeral in Glasgow Cathedral, she added: "It's only now, 10 years on, that we can appreciate how successful he was because he did what he wanted.

"He wanted to achieve a robust, durable parliament and he did.

"It's survived all sorts of different shapes and views and I think he would have been very happy about that."

CAPTION(S):

DRIVEN TO SUCCEED: Dewar on the campaign trail in 1999 but Holyrood building proved controversial LEADERS IN WAITING: Successors McLeish and McConnell, and right, our funeral tribute
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Title Annotation:Editorial; Opinion, Columns
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 11, 2010
Words:767
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