25 years since the death of John Smith, Alastair Osborne strips the myths from the man and remembers the reality of his contribution, the pain of his loss, and the debt owed to him by the Labour movement.

I can hardly believe that it’s 25 years since the death of John Smith. The passing of time leads Adam Boulton to reflect in his piece for the Sky News website, ‘the name John Smith doesn’t mean much to anyone under 40 today. I know, I’ve tried it on friends and family. Some sort of beer’.

Amongst the many fine tributes to mark the 20th anniversary of John Smith’s death five years ago were a few that confused the myth with the man. Remember this was at the very height of the independence referendum campaign. The most ludicrous was a comment left on the Daily Record website that ‘if John Smith were alive today he would be supporting a Yes vote’. If we were to believe the nationalists then everyone from Robert Burns to Keir Hardie to John Smith would have beeen voting Yes.

Another myth was the romantic notion that John Smith represented a lost Labour Party of the left. That seems almost funny now with the Party firmly in the grip of the Corbynistas. Back in the 1980s people like John Smith were viewed as being on the right of the Labour Party. Those of us on the left then thought we had all the answers when we only had some of them. Even the image of John Smith, the Presbyterian ‘bank manager’ figure, was well wide of the mark. As Donald Dewar once said, ‘he could start a party in an empty room.’

Stripping away the myths, we can remember the loss of someone who would have made a great Labour Prime Minister. Had he lived, he would have had the credibility to modernise the party, preserve its unity and help build a fairer society. We wouldn’t have had Blairism or the Third Way, and could you even imagine him being best pals with George W Bush. The words ‘Corbyn’ and ‘Brexit’ might never have found their way into any newspaper headline.

When he called devolution ‘unfinished business’ and ‘the settled will of the Scottish people’ he didn’t speak as someone from the ‘neo-nationalist’ wing of the Scottish Labour Party. His support for devolution was measured but absolute. He was determined to see it used for a purpose – to make Scotland a better, more socially just country (compare and contrast!). He had no time for nationalism and refused to concede Scottish identity or patriotism to the nationalists.

Debating devolution back in 1976 he said, ‘I speak as a Scot myself, representing a Scottish constituency, born and brought up in Scotland, living and wishing to continue living in Scotland, a member of a Scots profession, with children at Scottish schools, and having roots too deep in Scotland ever to wish to sever them. I think I am as entitled as any separatists to speak for my fellow countrymen.’

When I was standing in Ayr at the 1992 General Election, he came to lend his support and open our new party rooms at Damside. The media took their pictures of the candidate flanked by the then Shadow Chancellor, John Smith and our Euro MEP, Campaign Group member, Alex Smith. Someone shouted ‘Smith for Leader’ – Alex quipped ‘which one?’ He was to become Leader (John that is) but sadly not Prime Minister.

But for me the enduring memory and lasting legacy of John Smith was his commission on social justice (Social Justice – Strategies for National Renewal). Set up in the wake of the 1992 general election defeat, it was to be ‘a new Beveridge’ carrying out an independent inquiry into social and economic reform. Its mission was to ‘develop a practical vision of economic and social reform for the 21st century’ and it formed the basis of the best of Labour’s social reforms post 1997.

In a moment of weakness I gave away my prized copy to an arrogant young ‘wannabe’ Labour politico who had just told me he didn’t rate this ‘social justice thing’. I thought it might do him some good but I suspect he’s probably in the Tory Party now. I wish he would just send it back.

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15 thoughts on “John Smith 25 years on

  1. A remarkably bitter article that seems to be more about taking a swipe at Indies than praising a former leader.

  2. [Moderator note: This poster is now banned for attempting to subvert a previous ban using a different username.]

  3. I just looked up ‘John Smith MP’ on Wikipedia: to get an objective view.
    Thats what I thought.

  4. I agree with Bungo I never met him but I felt he was on my side Dave your comment very bitter

  5. Andrew Marr which I don’t watch Nigel was on it Mondays papers he did not like questioning had a barny afterwards threatened no more BBC interviews good and one of his people swore at BBC staff .

  6. Been out and about been asking what do you think of EUROS etc loads of people told me sick of Brexit on the telly fix it PM useless Corbyn in it for himself Nicola more Indy rubbish
    1 man an SNP supporter very strong in his support of Nicola he had been on the AOUB march great time
    EU I voted remain but I am beginning to meet leave supporters who are upset at their vote to leave being ignored .
    Man I spoke to at the bus stop today leave supporter told me tore up his postal ballot paper whats the point of electing another bunch of politicians on the make who wont be taking their seats I said maybe haha.
    Postal Ballot papers were out in my area Friday some neighbours binned them what for .
    Been asked is this local elections no is this Indy ref is this another EU vote no I said to vote for to elect member of European parliament .Whats that
    I think turnout will be low most not interested I have also phoned family in England the local election for my cousin not Brexit etc it was local bus service main point
    Was asked whats this voting card for just voted .
    I have been doing this on my own of my own bat all conversations friendly .
    I think we will have trouble getting people to vote and they are sick of politics on the telly especially Brexit leave voters angry at vote being ignored
    I am asking everyone please vote .

  7. Never mind all that I went to the opticians today Tuesday he squirted stuff in my eye told me he was ordering new glasses told me a few side effects would ware off in a few days .
    Was on the way home when the world turned deep green jacket ground every thing did it twice I AM A RANGERS SUPPORTER while we are at it the lights and walls turned PINK .
    Opticians again Wednesday will keep you posted haha

  8. All is well opticians and pharmacy staff fell about laughing then gave me the eye drops I should have got in the first place haha

  9. Watched ch4 news PM some sort of resignation timetable set for June Boris tells a business conference he will run for Leader of Tories and PM complete lack of class no vacancy yet .
    Ken Clark don’t underestimate Boris knows how to campaign but what are his policies not got any at the moment .
    Ch 4 news investigation into Nigel his campaign and lifestyle is financed by Arron Banks .
    Nigel was furious when confronted by ch4 in the street .
    A week to go its important we vote in the Euro elections polling day 23 May if you have a postal vote please use it now and encourage others as well thanks

  10. So what we all saw coming PM has to go to save the Tories . Boris the hero to our rescue maybe .
    Same Boris who has forgotten to declare thousands in earnings .
    Would not say how much he got paid for this weeks speech . Filmed walking a long the road usual scrum of reporters knocked a camera woman over did not look back.
    The runway at Heathrow which affects his constituents for the vote he suddenly found urgent business elsewhere .
    Then flounced out the cabinet anyway .
    Last week bowled over a child during some sort of game .This week shirt tail hanging out beneath his jacket .
    Can I say again if you have a postal vote for next Thursdays election please send it in now and whatever type of vote you have please vote on Thursday 23rd May .

  11. BBC Scotland News website a MacDonalds near Nigels rally in Edinburgh on Friday night told not to sell ice cream or Milkshakes in case the great man got them thrown at him haha

  12. John Smiths version of home rule was – everything devolved to Scotland – apart from defence and foreign affairs. Gordon Brown and his cronies betrayed John Smith and Scotland’s people.

  13. Its election day I have reminded that many people to vote 2 people got their own back on me today have you voted yes and so had they .
    Was talking to an SNP member today we agreed with Westminster in meltdown we might have a hard Brexit and the planning for that is extensive serious repercussions for all of us .
    Boris and Nigel did not even imagine that would have to be planned for and it has .
    Out and about and contacting people they are fed up with Brexit and Indy talk .
    Quite a few people not voting people did not realise the postal vote was out a lot of election leaflets came same day everything chucked out junk mail .
    Today I heard people speaking among themselves of PMS problems some admiration she is not a quitter
    For me a Political coup is taking place an elected PM is being forced out by her own party .
    Westminster is not working they shut down one day after 3 and a half hrs no business I think they are about to have another holiday .
    Thousands of people through no fault of theirs either lost their jobs this week or are in fear of it .
    How about dealing with that or the DWP or Universal Credit its what we pay them for

  14. PMS tears none for the thousands who could lose their jobs .
    The EU Nationals who were not allowed to vote I have seen press opinion that there are grounds to void the vote .
    CH4 News filmed Boris leaving home they don’t think he was waring a seatbelt haha

  15. I am a Rangers supporter for some reason Celtic supporters have been texting me Treble Treble cant think why haha .
    But well done Celtic .

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