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The loneliness of life for the man married to high office; For years, politics was the one demanding mistress Dewar had.

DONALD Dewar's marriage to Alison McNair, now Lady Irvine, wife of the Lord Chancellor, lasted for six short years.

But his mistress was always by his side - and her name was politics.

Nothing and no-one is more demanding.

Politics wears men out and wears them down. It takes young men and turns them old and sometimes it transforms itself into the angel of death, killing those who have faithfully laboured in its service.

It can bring, as it did to Donald Dewar, great rewards and the great offices of State but politics do not warm you in the long nights or keep you company when you are ill or depressed or down.

Of course there were his two children, Marion and Ian, his friends, that vast collection of books and his beloved paintings, but never someone special, someone of his own, waiting at home with whom he could share both the trials and the little pleasures of his day.

When he closed the door of his flat in Glasgow's West End, when he came back from his official house in Edinburgh or from his duties in London, when he dumped his washing in the machine and the boxes and the papers on the table, he was alone.

Pictures and books don't talk back. Children grow up and go away and even the best of friends have families and lives to which they must eventually hurry back.

But being alone was something to which he had come early.

Even as a child, this only son of elderly parents who was sent away to board when he was little more than a toddler because his mother's ill health learned to be the outsider, the one who walked by himself.

Later, at Glasgow Academy, the school of choice for the city's professional classes, Donald, although himself from the same middle class background with his doctor father, did not find a soul mate.

He was known as a boy who went his own way personally and politically as the sole socialist in this sea of unquestioning young Tories.

There were, of course, no girls at the Academy which for a gawky, gangling adolescent with glasses who already felt isolated might not have been altogether bad.

His school days, he confessed in later life with his massive understatement, were far from happy and he was bullied. Boys don't like those who are different.

It might have been easier to conform, to give in, but Donald had already developed the principles which like his politics never left him.

Glasgow University was his salvation. Suddenly there were those with whom he could debate and argue, who appreciated his wit, who enjoyed his eloquence and his company.

At last, it seemed he had found his proper place and like a rare flower given water after a drought, he blossomed.

He had an affectionate nickname, "The Gannet" because of his capacity for stuffing food down his gullet.

He had friends, his own set - John Smith, of course, and Derry Irvine, too.

They were all the brightest and the best, other men who would make their mark including Jimmy Gordon - now Lord Strathblane - who founded Radio Clyde and the Lib Dems' Menzies Campbell.

There were of course Donald's Law studies, but the union of which he was president, and the Labour Party which he had joined in 1957, was his chosen kingdom.

At university there were also girls, equally clever - if not in those days of the late 50s yet quite equal - and Alison McNair, also from a medical family with whom Donald fell in love. No one can remember him ever going out with anyone other than Alison.

She was intelligent as any friend of Donald's would have to be and very pretty and much sought after.

There were times when Donald seemed not quite to believe that she had chosen him - not as he was the first to admit, the most handsome of men - but in 1964 they married.

I remember meeting them soon afterwards in Glasgow - my own then husband had been at the Academy with Donald - and Alison was wearing one of those long afghan coats, then much in fashion and he looked so proud of her. By then, too, they had had their daughter, Marion.

But of course his mistress and the Labour Party had already also claimed him.

In 1966 at his second attempt when still only 28, he won Aberdeen South and found at Westminster another place in which he could be himself and make his own.

A year later, he and Alison had another child and it seemed the loner had truly come in from the cold.

But in 1970 everything went. He lost his seat to the Tories and his wife and children to his good friend Derry Irvine, now a successful barrister practising at the English bar.

The two were not to speak again, except through intermediaries, until the funeral of John Smith.

Nineteen seventy was the start of Donald's bleakest and most barren years. He practised as a solicitor and being Donald, did it with determined duty. But he had tasted paradise in parliament and that was where he intended to return.

In 1978, he made it back for good when he turned the Nationalist tide at Garscadden in Glasgow and also battled with Labour's militant tendency.

But he did it alone. This time there was no young wife by his side to share his triumph and to give him his victory kiss.

Through another six election nights, it was the same.

No-one seems to quite know if it was by accident or design that he remained single, wedded and faithful to his Party alone. Not that he was without female company.

He may not have been good looking, but he was an attractive person who seemed to like and enjoy the company of women and power is its own aphrodisiac - but he never allowed them to get too close.

Many of his women friends were happily married and although there were attempts to match- make, it never quite happened.

Perhaps there was no room for a lover or wife. But maybe after Alison's defection which was doubly brutal because it was Derry who Donald thought his friend, he never dared to risk his heart again.

He was of course always surrounded, always busy, always doing something but doing that something alone - although he said that sloth was a great companion.

Christmas he invariably spent alone. He made light of it and said he didn't want to inflict himself on someone else's family.

For someone whose appetite was notorious, his fridge and cupboards were usually bare.

He ate out, with his advisers as well as his friends, but often by himself. Early on a Saturday morning he could be seen chomping down a fried breakfast in a supermarket cafe.

I saw him one night, not long after the formation of the Scottish Parliament when he was the country's most powerful man, a daddy-long-legs among the Friday night butterflies in their finery, queueing up with them for a fish supper, seeking no privileges.

Food was fuel, something to keep him going rather than any gourmet event.

But he could be gregarious and always a great deal of fun. He took his position seriously but never himself.

I once, in this paper, set out to find him a wife. Donald was hugely amused and not the least offended. He would also have been surprised at the number who would have considered it a pleasure as well as an honour.

But until the end, Donald remained true to his mistress but essentially, alone.
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Author:Burnie, Joan
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 12, 2000
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