Stripping away the myths, we 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.
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. 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 be Leader 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.