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Alistair Darling, former Chancellor, dies aged 70

Alistair Darling PLSA conf
Alistair Darling: rescued the banks and fought against independence (pic: Terry Murden)

Former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling who led the bailout of the banking industry in 2008 has died just days after his 70th birthday.

Lord Darling was an Edinburgh MP and served in cabinet for 13 years under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

As a fiece opponent of Scottish independence he also led the Better Together campaign in the 2014 referendum.

He died after a short spell in hospital. A statement issued on behalf of the family said: “The death of Alistair Darling, a former chancellor of the exchequer and long-serving member of the Labour cabinet, was announced in Edinburgh today.

“Mr Darling, the much-loved husband of Margaret and beloved father of Calum and Anna, died after a short spell in Western General hospital under the wonderful care of the cancer team.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer led the tributes, saying: “Alistair lived a life devoted to public service. He will be remembered as the chancellor whose calm expertise and honesty helped to guide Britain through the tumult of the global financial crisis. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have benefited from Alistair’s counsel and friendship.”

Alistair Darling was a lawyer by profession and entered politics in 1982 after being elected to the former Lothian Regional Council.

He entered the Commons five years later and despite the left wing tendencies of his youth he became associated with the centrist reform of Labour alongside Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as they sought to modernise the party and transform it into New Labour.

Darling served as chief secretary to the Treasury, putting in place wide-ranging reforms to financial regulation, after the collapses of Barings and BCCI.

As Social Security Secretary he delivered welfare reforms and put the eradication of poverty at the heart of his political mission. However, it was managing the country’s financial stability that came to define his Cabinet tenure.

Appointed Chancellor in 2007 he was soon steering the country through the near-collapse of the banking sector, though there were reported clashed with Mr Brown despite their underlying friendship.

With queues forming outside branches of Northern Rock, Mr Darling took decision in 2008 to nationalise the bank ahead of even bigger decisions required to bail-out Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group.

He later said that the “scariest” moment was when he took a call from Sir Tom McKillop, chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, warning him that without the Treasury’s support it would run out of money that afternoon.

After leaving the Commons in 2010 he was brought back into frontline politics to steer the Better Together campaign ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.

He was unsure about the role, but colleagues believed he had the credentials to persuade Scots to reject the plan to split the UK. It was, according to close allies, an experience that he found more gruelling than saving the banks.

After ensuring the stability of the financial system he suffered insults and even being spat on in the streets of Edinburgh by constituents whose economy he had saved a few years earlier.

His former special adviser, Catherine MacLeod, insisted Darling “was reluctant to chair” the Better Together campaign, which he found “much harder to endure than his time dealing with the financial sector”.

“There were people camping on his roof, threatening his children, shouting at him in the street,” she said. “For many months afterwards people would still boo, or spit on him on the street when he went out to get his paper. That did not happen during the financial crisis.”

Lord Darling’s death coincided with the Alba Party proposing to introduce a Bill for a Referendum with a view to holding another vote next year on the tenth anniversary of the 2014 poll.

Tributes

Current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt described his predecessor in 11 Downing Street as “one of the great chancellors”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “I am heartbroken at the news of the death of Alistair Darling and my thoughts are with his wife – Maggie, his two children and all those who knew and loved him.

“Alistair was a giant of the Labour movement, a titanic force for good and a man I was proud to consider a friend and a mentor.

“From his time as Secretary of State for Scotland to being the Chancellor that led the UK through the financial crisis, Alistair Darling was dedicated to public service and improving the lives of those less fortunate.

“At a time of division for Scotland, Alistair led the Better Together campaign with kindness, intelligence and good humour – it was a job he did not want to do, but he believed he was doing a service for Scotland.

“Alistair’s life was one spent in the service of the people of Scotland and the UK  – the Labour family and our country will sorely mourn his passing.”

Tributes from, among others, Sir Keir Starmer, Anas Sarwar and Jeremy Hunt

Labour MP for Edinburgh South, Ian Murray, said: “I have known Alistair for many years, and he was the most decent, hard working and principled man you could ever meet. He served our home city of Edinburgh as a councillor and MP diligently over decades, and served our country as Chancellor during the most urgent economic crisis in our lifetimes. .

“He led the Treasury with the same principle and hard work that he applied to everything in his remarkable life.  Most of all, Alistair was my friend and a lovely person to be around.”

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf said: “I am deeply saddened at Alistair Darling’s passing. He dedicated his life to public service, and was a giant of Scottish and UK politics. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair played a central role in stabilising the financial system after the banking crash, both at home and abroad.

“I disagreed with Alistair on big political issues, but what is much more important is the courteous and respectful manner with which he conducted himself throughout his political career. He will be hugely missed from our public life.”

Lord Darling’s opponent in the independence campaign, Alex Salmond, now leader of the Alba Party, said: “This is very sad news. Alistair Darling was a hugely significant figure in UK politics. I always found him an effective politician. He became Chancellor at an extremely difficult period but he presented as a calm and authoritative figure during the financial crisis. 

“During the referendum campaign he was a  formidable opponent on behalf of the Better Together Campaign. However, outwith the political debates I can say we did not ever exchange a cross word. Alistair was an extremely courteous man. 

“Condolences go out to his family. “

Lord Darling of Roulanish was born on November 28, 1953. He died of cancer on November 30, 2023, aged 70

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