A Who’s Who from the world of politics and wider civic society gathered at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh on Tuesday morning in a service of thanksgiving for the life of the former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling.
Former prime ministers Sir Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were present along with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the First Minister Humza Yousaf.
The service was a mix of hymns, readings and eulogies which all came together to evocatively recall the life of Darling, who died last month at the age of 70.
Although the religious vied with the political in defining the service, it was Darling’s devotion to family that became the dominant theme.
Wife Maggie Vaughan was the last to arrive at the church.
Time and again during the course of the service, speakers acknowledged that she was a confidant and rock for her husband, throughout his long years of public service.
Both of the couple’s children, Anna and Calum paid tribute to their father. Anna recalled that he was always there for them despite a hectic ministerial schedule.
And Calum brought loud laughter to the Cathedral when he told a story of his father meeting his former security personnel at Edinburgh airport.
He immediately recognised all of them except one of their number who sheepishly told Darling that he wasn’t in security, but was the deputy prime minister.
The more political tributes were led by the current shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves MP and by the former Labour MP and minister Brian Wilson.
Reeves paid tribute to his handling of the banking crisis of 2007 which threatened the smooth functioning of economic life.
She said: “It was in that situation that the values that defined Alistair as a man and a leader came to the fore. A model of calm, careful deliberation and strong instincts when all around him was so uncertain.”
She continued that he had “the ability to act with swift, bold judgements when called upon and take responsibility for those momentous decisions. That was Alistair Darling”.
The congregation also included former Conservative chancellor George Osborne and Baroness Ruth Davidson. Author JK Rowling was also present and senior former colleagues including Charles Clarke, Geoff Hoon, Lord Mandelson, Lord Foulkes and Dame Helen Liddell.
Brian Wilson recalled that family was everything to Darling but also said he was influenced and his values moulded by the places he held dear: Edinburgh and Lewis.
Wilson said he was “a good man, a caring man, imbued with the genes of public service and social justice. A powerful combination”.
Alistair Darling served as an MP between 1987 and 2015, holding variously the posts of chief secretary to the treasury, transport secretary, secretary of state for Scotland before being appointed as chancellor of the exchequer in 2007.
He led the Better Together campaign which won the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence.
Unusually for a politician, Darling had few enemies. As today demonstrated, he had many friends from across the political spectrum and from all walks of life.
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