Motion of Condolence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd September 2013.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

On behalf of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Government, let me join in supporting the motion from Ruth Davidson paying fond tribute to David McLetchie and, of course, expressing our condolences to his family who are here with us today—his first love, as Ruth Davidson put it.

David was a founding member of the Parliament. He was a respected, intelligent and witty advocate for his party. His political achievements were considerable. He led the Conservatives from a wipe-out in 1997 to a secure footing in this Parliament and, I think by general acknowledgement, allowed the Conservative Party to punch well above its numerical weight in this Parliament.

I rather liked David’s description of his decision to become a parliamentary leader under such unpromising circumstances. He said:

“it was a combination of a mid-life career change and a mid-life crisis.”

Whatever it was, he served this Parliament and his constituents as a man of character, experience and persistence.

As we have heard, David was a gifted debater, and in seven years as a party leader he proved himself to be a worthy opponent for First Ministers and leading figures across the chamber. Whatever the issue—and he pursued many, from the Holyrood building project to education reforms to housing—David would draw on his legal skills to produce an effective cross-examination, which always climaxed in a devastating political punchline.

Like Ruth Davidson, I was drawn to the parliamentary masterpieces that were his speeches on what are fairly mundane matters and were fairly regular matters in those days: governmental changes. David managed to turn them into parliamentary classics. A speech in a debate in 2002 illustrates that very well. This is how David opened it:

“Here we are again with another ministerial reshuffle. Sometimes, it seems that there are more drop-outs in the Scottish Executive than there were at Woodstock.”

I am not sure whether David was personally at Woodstock; nonetheless, the point was well made. In the same speech, he went on to deliver the absolute classic. He acknowledged that 3 per cent of Scots believed that he was the Deputy First Minister. This is how he responded to that. He said:

“That is a worrying statistic. It means that, as we speak, 150,000 people are walking around Scotland blaming me for Jim Wallace’s mistakes. I would like to take this opportunity to state categorically for the Official Report that I take absolutely no responsibility for such failures.”—[Official Report, 8 May 2002; c 8622, 23.]

That was classic McLetchie.

He was never shy in holding the Government or his opponents to account; equally, he rarely lost the respect or friendship of any. It was a measure of the man that he never allowed a political disagreement to become just a personal disagreement.

When Donald Dewar died in October 2000, David McLetchie paid tribute to him with characteristic eloquence. He made the point that

“One does not have to be of the same political persuasion as another to recognise in them someone who has ability, sincerity and conviction.”—[Official Report, 13 October 2000; c 1081.]

The same words stand also for David himself. He was equally committed to serving his constituents and his country. It is a goal that we all share, even if we differ on what the means should be.

David and I shared two great loves—not just Heart of Midlothian Football Club but golf—but I would say that it was not until he served as Tory business manager during the period of minority government that I got to know him best. There, I think, his talents truly excelled. He always negotiated hard, in his party’s interest but also in the interests of the Parliament and effective government, and his word was absolutely his bond.

In my estimation, that performance marks David as an outstanding politician of the devolution era. There is no question but that, when the history of this Parliament comes to be written, David McLetchie’s place will be assured. He had many, many qualities. He fought hard and passionately in everything that he did—in politics and, personally, in his final battle with cancer. This Parliament is poorer—much poorer—without David McLetchie. [Applause.]