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Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie dies aged 61

The Lothian MSP passed away a year after he was diagnosed with cancer.

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Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie has died of cancer a year after he was diagnosed with the disease.

The 61-year-old is understood to have died on Monday morning at Edinburgh's St Columba’s Hospice.

A statement released by the Conservative party read: "It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of former party leader David McLetchie, at the age of 61."

An MSP for the Lothian region, Mr McLetchie became leader of the Scottish Conservatives shortly before the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. He resigned following the expense claims scandal in 2005, but continued as a frontbencher.

Mr McLetchie was on the organising group of the pro-Union Better Together campaign and had been his party's chief whip, business manager and constitutional affairs spokesman.

A University of Edinburgh law graduate, Mr McLetchie trained as a solicitor before contesting the Edinburgh Central seat for the Conservatives in 1979, losing to Labour's Robin Cook.

He was elected as a list MSP for Lothian in 1999, serving for four years. From 2003-2011, he was MSP for the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency before again representing the Lothian region.

Mr McLetchie was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June. He is survived by wife Sheila and son James.

As a mark of respect, flags at Holyrood will fly at half-mast until Mr McLetchie's funeral has been held.

Fellow politicians have been paying tribute to the Edinburgh native.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I was deeply saddened by the news of David’s death. David has been an immense figure in Scottish politics and a towering strength to our party in Scotland. He will be sorely missed.

"When devolution came, he picked up the reins and made sure that the Scottish Conservatives had a strong voice at Holyrood.

"He was one of Scottish politics’ most formidable intellects and finest debaters. All he did was carried out with dedication and conviction and his passing leaves a gap in the lives of all who knew him. My heartfelt condolences go to Sheila and his family."

'Famous wit'

The party's current leader Ruth Davidson said: "The dignity, courage and good humour with which David faced his illness was inspirational and his passing leaves a large hole in Scottish public life, in the Scottish Conservative Party and amongst those who were closest to him.

"First and foremost my deepest condolences go to his wife Sheila and their family. David had so much left to give and it is difficult to describe just what his loss at such a relatively young age means to all who knew him.

"As leader, he ensured the Scottish Conservatives played a central role in the fledgling Scottish Parliament's development and it is thanks to him that the Scottish Conservatives were able to establish themselves at Holyrood following defeat at Westminster in 1997.

"David was a ferocious debater who could deploy his famous wit to the most telling effect and his finely-tuned legal brain was invaluable when it came to dissecting weak legislation or the arguments of his opponents.

"But such was his conviction and his good humour, that even those he dismantled on the debating chamber floor were happy to share a drink and discussion with him afterwards.

"David had friends in every political party and he was often the fulcrum of some of the most unusual alliances in order to improve, force or block a piece of legislation.

"He enjoyed family life and life away from politics. He was an avid golfer, followed both football and rugby and he was always the first to insist that any Conservative night out incorporated a healthy dose of Karaoke.

"As a genuinely imposing character in Holyrood, the value of his presence to the whole institution could not be under-estimated and I particularly appreciated the encouragement and sage advice he offered me."

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: "Very sorry to hear about the sad and untimely death of David McLetchie. A great Parliamentarian, a valued colleague, and a very good friend."

First Minister Alex Salmond also paid tribute, saying: "David McLetchie was a leading member of the Parliament since 1999 and an extremely effective leader of the Conservative Group in the first Parliament, allowing it to punch politically well above its actual numbers.

"However, I got to know him best when he served as Tory Business manager during the period of minority government. There his talents excelled, always negotiating hard in his party’s interest but also fairly in the interests of the Parliament and effective government - his word was his bond.

"In my estimation that skilful performance marked David as a very considerable politician of the devolution era and my condolences go to his family and friends."

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon offered her condolences, saying: "Very sad to hear of David McLetchie's passing. He was a fine parliamentarian and a true gent. My thoughts are with his family and colleagues."

'Well liked across the political spectrum'

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont MSP, remembered Mr McLetchie for his "passion and determination."

She said: "David’s passing will be a huge loss to the Scottish Parliament. For all of us who knew and worked with David, we will remember his passion, drive and determination. Despite his failing health, his commitment to representing his constituents in the Lothians meant that he continued his work in Parliament.

"David was always well liked across the political spectrum. His knowledge, experience, candour and wit were defining features for a man who took his responsibilities seriously, but who did so in a friendly but determined way.

"His leadership during difficult times for the Scottish Conservatives was an opportunity for him to impress in the chamber and his love of golf and Hearts were always topics of passionate conversation for him. Our thoughts will be with Sheila, James and the rest of his family and friends.

"Scotland has lost a committed public servant who has been taken from us far sooner than was right. We will all remember David for the substantial contribution he made to public life in Scotland."

And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: "A towering figure if this new Scottish parliamentary age, David will forever be regarded as a public servant who made a difference. Whether as party leader or foot soldier he commanded immediate respect and trust from friend and foe alike. I will miss his humour and intelligence."

Holyrood presiding officer Tricia Marwick MSP said: "David was clever and funny, with the driest of wit. Brilliant in debate and forensic in committee. His intellect made him one of our most effective parliamentarians. We shall miss him terribly.

"The Scottish Parliament's heartfelt condolences go to Sheila and his family."

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