Author: Christine Richard OBE FRSA

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Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 at 12:00 pm
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David McLetchie MSP – A Man at Ease With Himself

David McLetchie, MSP, former Conservative Leader in the Scottish Parliament is, these days, a man entirely at ease with himself. He has overcome with grace and humility a concerted media campaign over alleged expenses difficulties and emerged as a political thinker who still believes he can make a difference. Even his resignation as Party Leader, he says, has given his successor Annabel Goldie a chance to build her own reputation as a strong and credible alternative.

David was educated at Leith Academy before winning a scholarship to George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, going on to gain a law degree (LLB Hons) from Edinburgh University in 1974. He joined Edinburgh firm Tods Murray in 1976 and became a partner in 1980 until 2005.

He says, “I have always been interested in politics, in current affairs, debate and argument. I felt my opinion was as good as the next person’s and I was not satisfied to be a bystander. I felt I had something to offer about how the country should be run. I believe in participative democracy, whether this is in local councils, community groups, voluntary groups or, indeed Parliament.”

There is no family history of political involvement only his father’s voluntary work for the Boy’s Brigade and local Church.

David continues, “I was driven by an idea of wanting to get on in the world, better myself, and put my views across. I took part in a mock election at the age of 10 in primary school. I was the Conservative candidate and my best friend was the Labour party candidate.”

At 16 he joined the Conservative party and says he was an avid reader of newspapers from an early age.

The best of times
In his life thus far, the best of times included winning a scholarship to Heriots, where he was regarded as an achiever, then went on to be the first member of his family to go to university, which led to a successful legal career. He is equally proud of his late first wife Barbara and his son James.

“My family has always been more important than anything else in my life.”

In political terms he says, “A highlight was being elected to lead the Conservative Party’s campaigns in 1999 and 2003, exceeding expectations, especially in 2003 when I won the constituency seat from Labour. I gained a lot of confidence from this, in spite of my lack of political experience compared to Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Alex Salmond.”

A Single Parent

When we turn to the worst of times he says, “In my private life it was the death of my wife, Barbara aged 44 in 1995 of cancer. James, my son was 13 and it was a devastating time for both of us. I found it a huge challenge to be a single parent, and am thankful we both came out the other end.”

In his political career he is equally candid. “It was the period leading to my resignation as Leader in October 2005 after 7 years in the position. I am conscious I made a number of mistakes, errors of judgement and accept full responsibility for these.”

Had the media treated him savagely?

“Some sections of the media hut in packs,” he says “and when they see someone is wounded they want to hunt them into the ground. There is no attempt to present a balanced point of view. People feed on headlines. I didn’t complain though. I had to take responsibility and it came to point where my continuing was damaging the Party and its prospects, diminishing not only my reputation but that of the Party as well. I stood down so the slate could be wiped clean.”

David McLetchieHe takes some justified pride in that during his leadership he helped to restore the Conservative Party in Scotland to the political map, from where it had all but disappeared. The quotation about “standing on the shoulders of giants” to achieve a common goal, he felt appropriate in his own situation.

Encouragement and an extended family
His parents were important influences. He says, “Both of them encouraged me to ‘get on in life’. They both left school at 15 but were passionate about education and gave tremendous encouragement to me both as a child and a young man. They believed in me. Now through my second marriage to Sheila (a Sister at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary) I have an extended family which I really appreciate. Sheila values her privacy and has her own interests, which is fine by me. I am not in favour of politicians parading their families in public. I respect her privacy and interests.”

Touchingly he adds, “I married her because I wanted a wife and I loved her.”

He is man who declares himself overall happy with his life. There is a touch of regret that he never lived or worked outside Edinburgh and he would have liked to have travelled more! But you sense this is not a serious issue for him.

David’s political heroes were from either end of the spectrum, Ian McLeod – one of the original One Nation conservatives – and Sir Keith Joseph, generally considered to be on the right wing of the party. Intriguingly another “heroine” is Tina Turner.

“She is my favourite singer and I really admire how she overcame abuse in her life and her tenacity, courage and talent. She is, as her hit song says, “Simply the Best.””

His next challenge is to help to get Conservatives into UK Government and to improve the number of Conservative members of parliament in the Scottish elections in 2011.

Now in his mid-fifties David is a man at ease with himself but he has lost none of his relish for the challenges ahead.

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