Scotland politics

Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie dies

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Media captionDavid McLetchie was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and remained an MSP until he died

The former leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, David McLetchie, has died from cancer at the age of 61.

The solicitor was elected to the first Scottish Parliament in 1999 as a list MSP for the Lothians.

He led his party from 1998 until 2005 before standing down amid a controversy over his taxi expenses.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Mr McLetchie was "one of Scottish politics' most formidable intellects and finest debaters".

He said: "David has been an immense figure in Scottish politics and a towering strength to our party in Scotland. He will be sorely missed.

"When devolution came, he picked up the reins and made sure that the Scottish Conservatives had a strong voice at Holyrood.

"All he did was carried out with dedication and conviction, and his passing leaves a gap in the lives of all who knew him."

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: "Our heartfelt sympathies are with his family at this desperately sad time.

"The dignity, courage and good humour with which David faced his illness was inspirational and his passing leaves a large hole in Scottish public life, in the Scottish Conservative Party and amongst those who were closest to him.

"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 added: "As leader, he ensured the Scottish Conservatives played a central role in the fledgling Scottish Parliament's development and it is thanks to him that the Scottish Conservatives were able to establish themselves at Holyrood following defeat at Westminster in 1997."

'Immensely proud'

Mr McLetchie's son James said the family were "devastated at the loss" but were "immensely proud of the courage and dignity which he showed during his illness".

As a mark of respect, flags at Holyrood will fly at half-mast until Mr McLetchie's funeral has been held.

Tributes have been paid from across the political spectrum.

First Minister Alex Salmond described Mr McLetchie as "a very considerable politician of the devolution era".

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added: "David was a fine parliamentarian and a true gentleman.

"He was a tough opponent but one who was always willing to find common ground and build consensus.

"He never allowed political disagreements to become personal - it was always easy to share a laugh with David, notwithstanding the cut and thrust of political debate."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie described Mr McLetchie as a "towering figure".

"David will forever be regarded as a public servant who made a difference," he said.

"Whether as party leader or foot soldier he commanded immediate respect and trust from friend and foe alike. I will miss his humour and intelligence."

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont MSP said Mr McLetchie's death would be "a huge loss to the Scottish Parliament".

"For all of us who knew and worked with David, we will remember his passion, drive and determination," she said.

She added: "Scotland has lost a committed public servant who has been taken from us far sooner than was right.

"We will all remember David for the substantial contribution he made to public life in Scotland."

Scottish Green Party leader, Patrick Harvie, said that despite having many political differences, he found the MSP to be "a sharp wit, a serious debater and a decent man".

"Holyrood's poorer without him," he added.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser described him as "a great parliamentarian, a valued colleague, and a very good friend".

Born in Edinburgh in 1952, Mr McLetchie went to school at the city's Leith Academy and George Heriot's School, before going on to study law at Edinburgh University.

Taxi expenses

As a solicitor, he specialised in handling inheritance tax changes brought in by the then Labour government at Westminster.

A huge Hearts fan and keen golfer, he became active in student politics from 1968 and stood as the Conservative candidate for Edinburgh Central in the 1979 General Election.

He was elected to the Scottish Parliament as a list MSP in 1999, before winning re-election in the constituency of Pentlands in 2003. In 2007 he retained the seat with an increased majority.

However, in the 2011 election he reverted to being a Lothians list MSP, having failed to win a seat based on new Holyrood boundaries.

Annabel Goldie had taken over from Mr McLetchie as leader in 2005 after he resigned amid growing pressure over his Holyrood taxi expenses.

He spent £11,500 during five years - more than any other MSP.

The MSP said the claims, which showed regular trips from Holyrood to the Edinburgh legal firm he worked at the time, were made in good faith.

Earlier this year, Mr McLetchie was made a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

In a BBC Scotland news website piece written to mark the 10th anniversary of Holyrood, he said he was frequently asked why he had become an elected politician.

He replied to those who asked: "I always tell them it was a combination of a mid-life career change and a mid-life crisis.

"Basically, 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."

Mr McLetchie is survived by his wife Sheila, 65, and son James, 32, from his first marriage to his late wife Barbara. He also had two stepchildren, Stuart and Catriona, and four grandchildren.

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