Scottish politician David McLetchie dies at age 61

Monday, August 12, 2013

David McLetchie, a former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, died today in a hospice in Edinburgh whilst suffering cancer. He was 61.

Official parliamentary portrait of David McLetchie, from 2011.
Image: Scottish Parliament.

In 1997, a general election produced no Conservative Members of Parliament from within Scotland for the UK's joint parliament in London. McLetchie took over the Scottish Conservatives the following year and in 1999 eighteen Conservatives were elected to the newly-formed devolved Scottish Parliament.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said today "when devolution came, [McLetchie] picked up the reins and made sure that the Scottish Conservatives had a strong voice". Cameron also called McLetchie "one of Scottish politics' most formidable intellects and finest debaters. All he did was carried out with dedication and conviction, and his passing leaves a gap in the lives of all who knew him." The Prime Minister said he is "deeply saddened" by the news.

McLetchie lead the party in Scotland for seven years before quitting in 2005 amidst a row regarding expenses claims. He continued to serve as an MSP for the Lothian area until his death. Born in Edinburgh in 1952, he remained there for his school and university education and became a solicitor specialising in inheritance tax before turning to politics, first running for office in 1979.

Current Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said "First and foremost my deepest condolences go to his wife Sheila and their family. David had so much left to give and it is difficult to describe just what his loss at such a relatively young age means to all who knew him." She said he "had friends in every political party and he was often the fulcrum of some of the most unusual alliances in order to improve, force or block a piece of legislation."

Outside of the Conservative party, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont spoke of McLetchie's "passion, drive and determination", noting his ongoing parliamentary work despite ill health. She called his death "a huge loss to the Scottish Parliament". Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie spoke of a "towering figure in this new Scottish parliamentary age... who made a difference" and "commanded immediate respect and trust from friend and foe alike."

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond called the late politician "an extremely effective leader of the Conservative group in the first Parliament, allowing it to punch politically well above its actual numbers".

McLetchie played golf and followed football and rugby, supporting Hearts. He has a son from a previous marriage, two stepchildren, and four grandchildren. He put his switch from law to politics down to "a combination of a mid-life career change and a mid-life crisis... I wanted the challenge of representing the Conservative Party in a parliament which was an ambition I had harboured since my teens, but which I had not been able to put into effect in the preceding 20 years because of career and family commitments."