The Isle of Great Bernera and the wider world has been saddened by the sudden passing of Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer , at the age of 70.
Politicians across the political spectrum were quick to pay tribute, with former PM Gordon Brown characterising his Labour colleague as “a statesman of unimpeachable integrity.”
Mr Darling, who died after a short illness, spent much of his free time at the home in Bernera the family inherited from his mother.
A statement issued in Edinburgh on behalf of Darling’s family said: “Alistair 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.”
Though Mr Darling was born in London, he always described himself as a ‘son of Lewis’. He was proud of his ancestral connections to Great Bernera.
When he was granted a life peerage in 2015, the late Chancellor took the title Lord Darling of Roulanish, after the village on Great Bernera.
During his time in the UK Parliament, he scaled the political ladder to become Chancellor under Gordon Brown from 2007 to 2010.
He was seen as a safe pair of hands at No. 11. He was in charge of the Treasury during the 2008 global financial disaster. He brought the UK’s banking sector back from the brink of disaster.
The Western Isles Labour Party paid tribute to Alistair Darling as a “son of Lewis” who saved the country not once but twice.
Torcuil Crichton, Labour's UK Parliamentary candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, described him as “one of the most decent men I have ever met in politics”.
Torcuil said: “Alistair was very proud of his island roots and he and his wife Maggie found solace and escape from the pressures of politics there. He passing is a great loss to the Labour family but also to the island community and to the country.”
“He had the distinction of saving the economy when the banks took the country to the brink of the cliff in the 2008 financial crisis and then he stepped up to the plate again during the 2014 referendum where his trusted voice was key to the success of the Better Together campaign.”
Torcuil added: “Alistair’s calm wisdom and experience in crisis would have been an incredible source of counsel to an incoming Labour government which we will not now have. He was a son of Lewis who leaves an incredible record of public service to his country and he was one of the most honourable and decent men I have ever met in politics.”
Before taking his seat in the House of Commons, Lord Darling cut his teeth in local politics as a councillor in the Lothian Regional Council.
Political journalist Andrew Marr said: "I first came across him back in the day when he was a left-wing Labour councillor in Edinburgh with a lot of hair and a big beard, a very different character. Indeed, like a lot of people he moved politically in his lifetime. I think it's fair to say he was a genuine rebel when he was a younger man."
But he added that Lord Darling shifted his politics to become a "very early and absolutely sure advocate of the whole New Labour change to the party back in the 1980s."
In a statement, Alex Salmond, leader of Alba and former SNP leader, said: “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."
Journalist John Macleod, son of Professor Donald Macleod, said yesterday: "I was desperately sad this afternoon to learn of the death of Alistair Darling, a principled and self-effacing politician whose late parents were friends of my own. He was very proud of his maternal roots in the Isle of Lewis and was a shy, gentle and respected presence around Morningside: you often noticed him, but you never intruded upon him."
Gordon Brown told the BBC that at one stage, he offered Lord Darling the role of foreign secretary but he refused it because he wanted to remain chancellor. The former Labour prime minister said he did not think Lord Darling "got much credit" for shepherding the UK economy as half its banking system collapsed. "Alistair deserves a huge amount of credit for the economy recovering so quickly after…the banking collapse so that by 2010 the economy was growing again," Mr Brown said.
In 2011, Alistair produced the magisterial book Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11 offering both his supporters and critics an astonishing insight into his work after he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as an insight into his relationship with the new leader of the Labour Party after the resignation of Tony Blair. In his book which received an enormous response and excellent reviews, Darling simply tells his story which enables the reader to get a better picture of the 1000 days of financial crisis as he has experienced it. This had a local launch at An Lanntair arts centre where Alistair calmly described from the stage exactly how close the country had come to a complete meltdown of the banking system as the former Royal Bank of Scotland, then the biggest bank inn the world, teetered on the brink of obliteration.
Alistair Maclean Darling was an MP from 1987 to 2015, latterly for Edinburgh South West. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 2007 to 2010, and was one of only three people to have served in the Cabinet continuously from Labour's victory in 1997 until its defeat in 2010, the others being Gordon Brown and Jack Straw.
He was first appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997, before being promoted to become Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 1998. After spending four years at that department, he spent a further four years as Secretary of State for Transport, while also becoming Secretary of State for Scotland in 2003. Blair moved Darling for a final time in 2006, making him President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, before new Prime Minister Gordon Brown promoted Darling to replace himself as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2007, a position he remained in until 2010.
His mother grew up in Stornoway but the Breaclete, Great Bernera, croft has been in the family for many years, dating back to Alistair’s great-great-grandfather in the 1850s. His parents met in Stornoway in the 1940s when his father, who was a civil engineer, came to Lewis to work on a herring processing factory.
Great Bernera played out as the backdrop to one of the major moments in the 2008 financial crash as Alistair landed himself in extremely hot political water by giving a newspaper interview from there in which he said the economic prospects facing the country were “arguably the worst they have been in 60 years”. He then added: “And I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought.” In just a few weeks the financial crisis hit, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the bailout of the banks. That interview was given to The Guardian newspaper was headlined “Storm Warning” and featured a photograph of Alistair, seen above, taken by Shawbost photographer Murdo Macleod, taken while standing on the beach at Dalbeg.
The sympathy of the community is extended to Maggie, his wife, and his children Calum and Anna.