A free exhibition celebrating the golden anniversary of David Steel’s career in parliament has opened at the Haining, and will extend its run to mid-April.
The Guardian’s former editor Peter Preston opened it on Wednesday, exactly 50 years since he reported the 26-year-old Liberal Party candidate, dubbed Boy David, had taken what deemed to be the safest Conservative seat in Scotland, on March 25, 1965.
The exhibition, curated by David’s wife Judy and titled The Battles for the Borders, tours his political career, through pamphlets, cartoons, medals, ties, oaths, uniforms, furniture, and a painting from the National Portrait Gallery – but not his famous Spitting Image puppet, which Judy said would disintegrate on the journey from London. Opening the exhibition, Mr Preston recalled: “This was one of the most fascinating moments in a whole career of journalism.”
And read his description of David, now Lord, Steel as: “boyish, fluent” and “more like a pop idol than a politician.
He continued: “There was huge interest around the country. It was palpatating. It put the Borders on the map. It put good politics on the map. We don’t do by-elections any more. If you’re embedded, you get to meet the candidates, and see who they are. I wish we could go back to it today.”
The former Labour MP and Father of the House Tam Dalyell, a friend of David’s for 60 years, told The Wee Paper: “I infuriated my labour colleagues by declining to canvas against him at his by-election. For 30 years or more, he enhanced the profession of politics, with his constructive attitude to the problems facing the House of Commons.”
Former SNP MSP George Reid, who succeeded David as the second Presiding Officer of the new Scottish Parliament, and first introduced him to his wife Judy, also paid tribute: “He’s been a good Scot, and a good radical, and a good Border man by adoption.”
David himself recalled the three issues that propelled his campaign to victory: qualifying the Borders as a development area, building a new hospital, and saving the railway – “which was a failure,” he added: “but guess what? The railway’s coming back again. Fifty years later, we can smile again.”
As a surprise the previous evening, David was presented with a new book, inspired by local former MSP Jeremy (now Lord) Purves, and called Militant for the Reasonable Man: a collection of tributes from his family, friends, colleagues and opponents.
The exhibition is open from 10am-noon, 2-4pm and 6-8pm each day.