I thank the Presiding Officer, the party leaders and Margo MacDonald for all the kind and touching remarks that they have made this afternoon, spoken with affection and grace. I know that David McLetchie’s family will have been much comforted by all that has been said.
My first recollection of David McLetchie, at a party meeting many years ago, is hardly an extensive encapsulation of either his character or his talents: I noted him simply as that good-looking big Edinburgh lawyer chap with the glasses. Mind you, coming from a then Glasgow lawyer, that was in the realms of high praise. [Laughter.]
Even then, David made an immediate impression, leavening the universally dry fodder that was so characteristic of the business meetings of all parties. Not only was he analytical and forensic in his approach to all issues, he was dogged in his pursuit of what he believed to be right. Those attributes, in conjunction with an approach to political issues derived from basic principle and an unshakeable commitment to his political beliefs, made him the effective and formidable political operator that he was.
In politics, working relationships between colleagues in the same party are routine and we could not function without them. However, real friendships within parties are perhaps a little less common, and across parties they are rarer still. Yet, in politics, David McLetchie cultivated and established all those different relationships. That is not easy to do, but, as we have heard from the speeches this afternoon, even among his political opponents he elicited respect and affection.
When David became leader of the Scottish Conservatives, those personal strengths of character served his party and his colleagues well. His first ever speech to the Parliament in 1999 had clarity, vision and his trademark acerbity. He began by saying:
“I am well aware that, unless there is a sudden, widespread and highly unlikely outbreak of common sense, my candidacy for First Minister will not succeed this afternoon.”—[Official Report, 13 May 1999; c 19.]
He then articulated his vision for the Scottish Conservatives: he said that we should be a constructive Opposition in the Parliament, dedicated to making it a success, and that we should aspire to Government in Scotland again some day. That is still the vision for my party—it was endorsed by me and Ruth Davidson as his successors. David was unflagging in his endeavours to realise those ambitions.
When I succeeded David, I could not have asked for a more supportive colleague. His counsel was sound and any confidence that I shared with him remained with him; he knew how solitary leadership can be. His friendship was comforting and reassuring, and his integrity manifest.
The one word that I knew never to mention in David’s presence was “consensus”. To him, “consensus” was synonymous with fudge, dilution of intellectual rigour and impairment of political purity. However, he was pragmatic. As others have said, in 2007, when the Parliament first experienced minority government, there was a need for party business managers with honed political skills, razor-sharp minds and acutely sensitive political antenna who were astute in judgment and skilled in negotiation. I could not have been better served than I was by David McLetchie. He excelled, and not only his party, but the Parliament, were the beneficiaries.
The touching and eloquent tributes that we have heard this afternoon reflect David McLetchie’s enormous contribution to Scottish politics and our sorrow as politicians at the loss of a colleague, a gentleman and a friend. [Applause.]