A Fitting Farewell to a Man of the People; How the Tea Ladies Joined the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and Giants of the Political World to Pay Tribute to First Minister Donald Dewar

Article excerpt


THE heart of Scotland missed a beat yesterday afternoon as the country bade a final farewell to Donald Campbell Dewar. Workers downed tools to stand in silent prayer as the hour of his funeral arrived.

Shoppers lowered their heads, office workers paused to remember him. North and south of the Border, Government itself was suspended as Cabinet Ministers from Westminster and Holy-rood converged on Glasgow Cathedral.

Inside, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John looked down from the lofty stained glass window on the northern wall of the ancient Quire to where the First Minister's coffin lay facing the altar, bedecked by a single red rose. The understatement reflecting the character of the man inside; just as the potency of the symbol echoed the universal love of him so apparent in the church.

Glasgow Cathedral, that haunt of pilgrims since the Middle Ages, had never seen a gathering like it, never seen a congregation so diverse yet so united.

Alongside the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister sat cleaners, tea ladies and canteen staff. Cheek by jowl with Cabinet Ministers were cabinet makers.

There were Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, Moslems and Jews.

Nationalists shared pews with Unionists; political pundits with political leaders. There were the young, the old, the fit, the lame.

There was a seating plan, but no hierarchy.

With sensitivity and precision the family reflected in the congregation the varied aspects of their father's life. Friends, the Labour Party, fellow politicians, constituents, colleagues and royalty. In life, he treated all of them the same. In death, that instinctive egalitarianism was pleasingly reflected.

The Cathedral was half full at 1pm.

With an hour and a half to go before the service Sir David Steel, presiding officer of the Scottish parliament and his wife Judy were already in their pew. Mo Mowlam arrived with Chris Smith, Margaret Callaghan and Alan Millburn.

Shortly afterwards David Blunkett and his dog were manoeuvred into a pew in the centre aisle by Alistair Campbell.

As the Scottish Executive filed in along the side aisles friends such as Angus Grossart, Kirsty Wark, Fiona Ross and her mother and Menzies Campbell made their way into the Quire.

Annabel Goldie sat behind Peter Mandelson. Charles Kennedy was next to Robin Cook and his wife Gaynor.

Helen Liddell sat to the right of the altar as did Alex Salmond, William Hague and Ross Harper.

And they were just the faces that were easily recognised. Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh and a man much respected by the First Minister, sat in earnest conversation with an anonymous young woman beside him.

APART from the famous faces, there was no telling what walk of life people came from. There were only a handful of hats in the place. Mourners dressed tidily but with no show - as if in acknowledgement that the last thing Donald Dewar would have cared about was ostentation.

At the back of the Quire a breathless late arrival whispered to her neighbour: 'I was looking for my good black handbag, when what did I come across but the hat I wore to Donald and Alison's wedding.' More than 35 years had passed since that thrifty wifey packed away her wedding finery.

Now Donald and Alison were together in church once more. Alison was sitting a few rows behind their pale, grief-stricken children; her present husband Derry Irvine by her side.

Donald was in his coffin. It was time to say goodbye.

Black-clad members of the police and fire service who would carry the coffin filed in. …