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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day


Donald Dewar

By Irene Maver

Donald Dewar Donald Dewar (1937-2000) set a historic precedent when he became the first First Minister of the newly reconstituted Scottish Parliament in May 1999. The son of Dr Alasdair Dewar, a consultant dermatologist, he grew up in Kelvingrove. He was educated at Glasgow Academy and went on to the University of Glasgow, initially to study history, then to study law. Even as a schoolboy Dewar was an enthusiastic Labour supporter, although as an admirer of the party leader, Hugh Gaitskell (1906-1963), his views were far from left-wing.

Donald Dewar Dewar qualified as a solicitor and in 1966 he was returned to the Westminster Parliament as member for Aberdeen South. He lost the seat in the 1970 General Election, but he remained at the centre of politics at a time when the dominant debate was about Scotland's constitutional status within the United Kingdom. There were deep divisions within the Labour Party, but Dewar aligned himself firmly with the pro-devolution camp. He got his chance to return to Westminster in April 1978, when he won a by-election for the Glasgow Garscadden constituency. During the "Thatcher Years" of the 1980s Dewar was a binding force for Labour's Scottish MPs at Westminster and in 1988 he was instrumental in aligning the party with the Scottish Constitutional Convention. This was a broad-based organisation which went on to establish the blueprint for a proposed Scottish Parliament.

The opportunity for practical action came in May 1997, following Labour's landslide victory in the General Election. Dewar was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, with a remit to introduce a meaningful scheme of devolution. The Referendum of September that year resulted in an overwhelming popular endorsement for the Edinburgh Parliament. Following the 1999 elections, Dewar was returned as MSP for Anniesland and, as expected, he took on the onerous responsibility of First Minister. However, his role in the office was short-lived. In October 2000 he died of a brain haemorrhage, much to the dismay of Scots who respected his political experience, incisive intellect and integrity. In May 2002 Kenny Mackay's bronze statue of Dewar was erected outside Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall.

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