12 May 2009

The Day John Smith Died


Fifteen years ago today I was working as a TV producer at Scottish Tory Party Conference in Inverness when the news came through. I was on the conference hall balcony about to interview Ken Clarke, and had to tell him we had a problem - his long term sparring partner and now Leader of the Labour Party had died.

I knew John Smith quite well, but his daughters better, and for a few moments I just lost it. But when I came around I saw Ken Clarke was even more distressed than me. And when the announcement was made to the in session and in government Scots Tories, you could hear a gasp of shock, could feel their genuine sadness as they solemnly filed out the hall - the measure of the man.

I had been with Scottish TV's ( now BBC Radio Scotland's) Colin MacKay three years previously for the first interview John Smith had given after his earlier heart attack. I knew from this - plus direct knowledge of how much it had taken my own dad to get back on his feet after his heart attack - how hard it had been, would be.

But by 12th May,1994 John Smith was on the verge of greatness. He had the Tories on the run, politically, intellectually and I'd say morally - though he was never a man to preach, despite his religious beliefs.

But all this was not to be for John, the torch instead passed over to Tony Blair. And history

Exactly five years later - ten years ago today - as the Scottish Parliament's Head of Broadcasting I was again present at history, as I filmed the first ever sitting of a democratically elected Scottish Parliament. This was a day John Smith, Devolution Minister in the 1970's Labour Government, the Labour leader who had bravely led his party into the all-party Scottish Constitutional Convention, had lived for - died for even. His spirit was ever present in the Church of Scotland's converted Assembly Hall , but nowhere more so than in his university friend and long term political ally, Donald Dewar, who saw John's promise home.

This film below I hope captures that moment - our moment, Scotland's moment, John's moment.

6 comments:

Wrinkled Weasel Wednesday, May 13, 2009  

Congrats on making the DD. I have warned Iain the link to your blog is dead.

Thank you for the tribute to John Smith.

Last time I was on Iona I paid my respects to him. How history would have been different without this tower of a man.

IanH Wednesday, May 13, 2009  

Forgive the intrusion, I am just a member of the public who, whilst being a LibDem voter, rejoiced at the 1997 election results.

My question is, didn't John Smith instigate the whole neo-con New Labour project by picking out Blair and Brown as his acolytes? He must have had a good awareness of their character.

*Conspiracy Theory Alert* By the way, and I am genuinely not being flippant here, it has always struck me as strange that the three people I think could have been the Real labour project - Smith, Dewar, Cook - all died prematurely

Aye We Can ! Wednesday, May 13, 2009  

Ian,

You are not intruding at all, but maybe this particular thread aint the ideal one for conspiracy theories.

I am pretty sure John Smith just dropped dead from a heart attack - sadly a common thing amongst men of his age in high pressured jobs, especially ones with heart conditions

But you raise a not insignificant point - Brown ( in particular) and Blair were his protegees. I'd like to think had JS lived he'd either have brought out their better sides or sussed them and propmoted other over them. But who relly knows?

It is hard ot speak ill of the dead, but alive, and as someone who was on the left of the Labour party not the right as JS was, I genuinely can tell you, in those most bitter of times, near everyone liked John Smith, even the trots! And as Ive - mentioned above the Tories tooo. Ask your fellow Lib Dems, you wil find the same I'm near certain.

I think there was a reason for this.

naldo Wednesday, May 13, 2009  

Nice tribute to a great man. My own politics are and were much to the left of John Smith's but, unlike his predecseeors at the top of the Labour Party, he seemed to me to be a man of great integrity, wit and humanity.

I can't believe John Smith would have spent his energies abolishing Clause 4 from the Labour Party constitution, that he'd have toadied so much to big business and the super rich or that he'd have lead us into that dreadful war in Iraq.

Impossible to know but i reckon had he lived and become Prime Minister, i wouldn't have become so dissatisfied with the UK and i wouldn't have converted to support for Scottish independence.

I genuinely miss the man.

Allan Wednesday, May 13, 2009  

If memory serves, you're description of Smith was in spite of him not really filling the role of leader of the party until the previous Budget (November '93), where he really tore Clarke to shread's.

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