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Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

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Donald Dewar

Donald Dewar started his career as a solicitor and first became an MP in 1966. His political careers spans both The UK and Scottish Parliaments. As a passionate supporter of devolution his contributions both to the establishment and work of the Scottish Parliament has led to him being referred to as the ‘Father of the Nation’.

Following the 1997 general election as MP for Glasgow Anniesland he was given the post of Secretary of State for Scotland. In this UK Government post he was able to kick start the devolution process he had long dreamt of.

Following the 1997 referendum in which there was a majority of 74%, in favour of devolution work began on the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Donald Dewar worked tirelessly on creating the Scotland Act 1998 (popularly referred to by some as ‘Smith's unfinished business’), the act that transferred law making powers back to Scotland. The Scotland Act 1998 gave Scotland its own Parliament, a historical moment as 300 years earlier the Scottish Parliament had been abolished as part of the Union with England.

In the first elections to the Scottish Parliament held on 6 May 1999 Donald Dewar was elected as the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Anniesland. When the Scottish Parliament opened in July 1999 he was nominated as the first First Minister. He was officially appointed by the Queen on 17 May 1999 at a ceremony in the Palace of Holyroodhouse and later sworn in by the Lord President of the Court of Session where he received the Great Seal of Scotland.

As First Minster he set out a wide ranging agenda for news laws which were designed, for example, to improve standards in Scottish schools; give right of access to the countryside, abolish the feudal system of land tenure and to establish National Parks in Scotland.

Although everyone did not agree with his views or politics he fought for significant legal change in Scotland and worked tirelessly to establish the new parliament. His work in this respect is an example of a legal hero, someone who worked tirelessly for change in the belief it would create a better Scotland and a Scotland with an inclusive and transparent parliament that worked for everyone.

A statue, which reflects his always slightly crumpled appearance and recognises his contributions has been erected in Glasgow, the city where he held a seat as both MP and MSP. The base of the statue is inscribed with the opening words of the Scotland Act: ‘There Shall Be A Scottish Parliament’, a phrase about which Donald Dewar himself said at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in July 1999 ‘Through long years, those words were first a hope, then a belief, then a promise. Now they are a reality’. On display in the Scottish Parliament is a copy of the Scotland Act signed by the then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair which says ‘It was a struggle, it may always be hard; but it was worth it. Scotland and England together on equal terms!’

Donald Dewar
Figure 8 Donald Dewar