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Issue 9 - Steelappeal

Scotland Magazine Issue 9
July 2003

 

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Steelappeal

RODDYMARTINEPROFILESTHELIFEANDWORKOFFIFE-BORNVETERANPOLITICIANSIRDAVIDSTEEL

SirDavidSteel’sretirementasthefirstpresidingofficeroftheScottishparliamentinMayisparticularlysignificantsinceitindicatesthat,afterfouryears,Scotland’sfledglinglegislativeassemblyhascomeofage.

TheparliamentneededthesteadyinghandofaseasonedUKpoliticiantosteeritthroughtheuncertainwatersofitsinfancy,andnoonewasbettersuitedtothetaskthanSirDavid.

Butitisonlywhenyoutaketimetorecallthemanyotherachievementsofhis38-yearpoliticalcareerthatyoubegintorealisewhatanenormouscontributionthismanhasmadetoournationallife.

Aslongagoas1967,forexample,hesteeredaprivatemember’sbillthroughtheHouseofCommonsthatwastoreformtheexistinglawonabortion.In1976,hewaselectedleaderoftheLiberalParty,and12yearslater,hecofoundedtheLiberalDemocratParty.

SirDavidisoneofthegreatsurvivorsinBritishpubliclife.Knightedinthe1990NewYear’sHonoursList,heservedasforeignaffairsspokesmanfortheLiberalDemocratsuntil1994.Threeyearslater,hewascreatedalifepeer,takingthetitleofBaronSteelofAikwood(ofEttrickForestintheScottishBorders).In1999,hewaselectedaLothianListmemberinthenewlyformedScottishparliament,andwaschosentobecomeitsfirstpresidingofficer.

DavidMartinScottSteelwasborninKirkcaldy,Fife,in1938.Hisfather,theVeryReverendDavidSteel,afutureModeratoroftheGeneralAssemblyoftheChurchofScotland,wasappointedMinisteroftheParishofEastAfricaandofStAndrew’s,Kenya,in1949,andbetweentheagesof11and15,theyoungDavidattendedthePrinceofWalesSchoolinNairobi.

In1953,hereturnedtoScotlandtostudyatEdinburgh’sGeorgeWatson’sCollege,thenreadlawatEdinburghUniversity.

GraduatingwithanMAin1960andanLLBin1962,Steel’sfirstjobwasasassistantsecretaryoftheScottishLiberalParty.

Then,havingworkedasajournalistandtelevisionreporterwithBBCScotland,hewaselectedtotheUnitedKingdomparliamentataby-electionin1965.

Itwasjustbeforehis27thbirthday,andthe‘BoyDavid’,ashisRoxburgh,SelkirkandPeeblesconstituencythencalledhim,becametheyoungestMemberofParliamentofthetime.

HehadmethiswifeJudyatuniversity,andtheymarriedwhentheybothgraduatedin1962.Itisaremarkableandenduringpartnership,withJudy,herselfaqualifiedlawyer,nurturingtheconstituencywhileherhusbandwasawayatWestminster.

BothshareagreatloveofScottishBordersfolkloreandhistory,andin1990theyacquiredandrestoredAikwoodTower,a16thCenturyfortifiedhouse,bySelkirk.

Aswellasbeingtheirfamilyhome,untilthisyearithousedadisplaybasedonthelifeofthewriterJamesHogg,‘TheEttrickShepherd’,aswellasoccasionalexhibitionsofcontemporaryart.TheexhibitionhasnowtransferredtonearbyBowhill.

CollaboratingwithJudyontwooccasions(onBorderCountryandMary,QueenofScots),SirDavidhaswrittenanumberofbooks,includingAHouseDividedin1980,TheTimeHasCome(withDavidOwen)in1987,andhisautobiography,AgainstGoliath,in1989.Morerecently,Judyhasbeenpreoccupiedwithproductionsforthemuch-acclaimedRowanTreeTheatreCompany,specialisinginplaysbasedonBordersfolklore.

However,itwasSteel’sformativeyearsspentinKenyathatprobablyexercisedthegreatestinfluenceoverhiminhisearlyyearsasaMemberofParliament.

From1966until1970,hewaspresidentoftheAnti-Apartheid

MovementofGreatBritain.In1971,hepaidhisfirstvisittoSouthAfricawherehehadhisfirstmeetingwithPikBothaasforeignminister.

In1979,asLiberalLeader,hemadeamajortourofsouthernandcentralAfricaandwasreceivedbyPresidentMoiinKenya,PresidentNyerereinTanzaniaandPresidentMasireinBotswana.

InRhodesia,BishopMusorewaliftedtheP.I.Order(banningVIPsfromtheUKfromvisitingthecountry),andSteellatermetwithRobertMugabeinexileinMaputo,andwithOliverTamboandThaboMbekiinLusaka.

Sincethen,heandMbekihavebeeninregularcontactandastrongfriendshiphasdeveloped.FortheindependenceofZimbabwein1979,SteelwasintheopartywiththePrinceofWales.Duringthedecadethatfollowed,hewasinchargeofelection-monitoringteamsinNamibia,
SouthAfrica,MozambiqueandAngola.

However,SirDavid’sknowledgeofAfricaisfarfromthesumtotalofhisexpertise.HehasvisitedwesternandeasternEuropeextensively,Canada,theWestIndies,theMiddleEast,ChinaandHongKong,CentralandSouthernAmerica,andlecturedintheUSA.In1978,hewasawardedtheChubbFellowshipatYaleUniversity.

InJune1989,hewasthefirstnationalfromonecountrytostandfortheEuropeanParliamentinanotherEuropeanCommunitymemberstate.

Hecamefourthoutof16candidatesinthecentralregionofItaly.In1992,hewasawardedtheCommander’sCrossoftheOrderofMerit.WhenIcalledinonhimathisoffices,hewaspreparingforavisittotheCanadianHouseofCommonsinOttawaandtheOntarioLegislativeAssemblyinToronto.

TartanDaywasimminentinbothCanadaandtheUSA,buttwoweeksintotheIraqWar,itwasfeltappropriatetorestricthistimespecificallytoparliamentactivities.

InOttawa,therefore,hemetJeanChrétien,theCanadianprimeminister,andinBoston,hadtalkswithRobertTravaglini,presidentoftheCommonwealthofMassachusettsStateSenate,andThomasFinnerman,speakeroftheHouseofRepresentatives.

InConcord,NewHampshire,hewasreceivedbygovernorCraigBenson.

InOttawa,hestayedattheresidenceoftheBritishHighCommission–ahouseactuallybuiltbyCanada’sfirstprimeminister,aScotcalledJohnA.MacDonald.Now,itjustsohappenedthatitwasSirDavid’s65thbirthday,andtheHighCommissionergaveadinnerattendedbyprimeministerChrétienandtheMinistersofForeignAffairs,TransportandDefence,butonlycoincidentallytohonourSirDavid’sbirthday,asitsmainfocuswasonbuildingconnectionsbetweentheScottishandOttawaparliaments.

“MaintainingthelinkswithCanadaandtheUSAiscriticallyimportant,”Steelinsists,recallinghisexperiencesatYale,andtheweekhespentwithDemocratCandidateGaryHartonhis1984presidentialelectioncampaign.

“Itwasastonishing.BecauseAmericaissobig,eachstatewasafreshstartwithafreshseriesofinterviews.IsawSenatorHartmakethesamespeechtoabaseballstadiumashedidtoagroupof12somewhereelse.”

HepraisesthemanyoverseasStAndrewsandCaledonianSocieties,andisamazedathowbadlyweinScotlandinterrelatewiththem.HehasattendedTheStoneMountainHighlandGamesinAtlanta,Georgia,andfounditasplendidspectacle.

“WedoneedtocapitaliseonthegrowinginternationalawarenessofScotland.”hesays.“Itisnotjustaboutencouragingpeopletocelebrateourcultureintheirowncountries,butweneedtoactivelyencouragethemtocomeandvisitustoseeforthemselves.

Thescopetopromotebothbusinessandtourisminbothdirectionsistremendous,butwenowneedtoconvinceourfriendsandrelativesabroadthatScotland,withallofourhistoriclinks,isasafeplaceforthem.”

Evenbeforehisdeparture,SirDavidwasfinalisingarrangementsforhisroleasthisyear’sLordHighCommissionertotheGeneralAssemblyoftheChurchofScotland.

From17thto23rdMay,hewastotakeupresidenceatthePalaceofHolyroodhouse,officiallyrepresentingtheQueenattheGeneralAssembly,whichhasanobvioussignificanceforhim,sincehisfatherwastheKirk’sModeratorbetween1974and1975.

Youwouldimaginethatafter38yearsintherough-and-tumbleofpoliticallife,especiallyfollowingarecentprostatecancerscare,hewouldbelookingforwardtoaslowerpaceonhisretirement.Butthereisnolet-up.

ThereareoverseaseventspencilledintohisdiaryupuntilNovember2004,severalstilllinkedtotheScottishparliament.

FollowinghisweekasLordHighCommissioner,forexample,isatriptoLesothoattherequestoftheForeignOfficetoassisttheirparliament,and,laterintheyear,heplanstovisitbothPalestineandTaiwan.

Ontheseoccasionshesayshewouldliketobethoughtofasaroving/freelanceambassadorpromotinghis“recurringthemeofdevelopingdemocracy.”

PerhapsitisfromhisexceptionallybeautifulretreatdeepintheScottishBordersthathetakeshisstrength.

Almost20yearsago,IvisitedhimathisprevioushomeinEttrickBridge,closetoAikwood,andhetalkedaboutthechanginglightoftheEttrickValley,andhowthelandscapevariesfromdaytoday,hourtohour.

Itisinsuchplaces,surroundedbytheghostsofthepast–JamesHogg,SirWalterScott,ThomastheRhymerandMichaelScott,theWizard–thatthespiritsoars,andthemachinationsofourpoliticiansseemsoveryfarawayandrelativelyunimportantinthegreatschemeofthings.

Thatmaywellbetrue,butIsuspectwewillbehearingalotmorefromSirDavidSteelintheyearsaheadofus.