John Smith, QC, lived from 13 September 1938 to 12 May 1994. He was the leader of the British Labour Party at the time of his sudden death. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Smith was born in Dalmally in Argyll & Bute, and was the son of a headmaster. He grew up in Adrishaig before being sent to board in Dunoon so he could attend Dunoon Grammar School. In 1956 he became a student at the University of Glasgow, studying history until 1959, and then law. While there he formed a close friendship with his future political ally, Donald Dewar. After leaving university, Smith practiced as a solicitor and subsequently became a member of the Faculty of Advocates, the body of lawyers allowed to act as advocates in Scottish courts. In 1983 he became a Queen's Counsel.
In a 1961 by-election and in the 1964 General Election, Smith stood unsuccessfully as the Labour Candidate in the East Fife Constituency. In the 1970 General Election he was elected to be the Member of Parliament for Lanarkshire North. He retained this seat until it disappeared as a result of boundary changes in 1983, and thereafter represented the new and closely geographically related constituency of Monklands East. In 1971, for the only time in his political career, he defied Labour Party whips to vote in favour of UK membership of the European Economic Community (the precursor to the European Union).
In October 1974, Smith turned down the post of Solicitor General for Scotland in Harold Wilson's Government and instead became a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Energy. The following year he was promoted to Minister of State. When James Callaghan became Prime Minister in 1976, Smith was appointed Minister of state at the Privy Council Office, and was responsible for driving the Government's controversial plans for devolution in Scotland and Wales through the House of Commons. In November 1978 he became the youngest member of the Cabinet when he was appointed Secretary of State for Trade.
Labour lost power to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party in the 1979 General Election, and Smith became Shadow Energy Secretary. He later served as Shadow Employment Secretary and Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, before being made Shadow Chancellor by Labour Leader Neil Kinnock in June 1987. On 9 October 1988 Smith suffered a heart attack. This resulted in his being out of politics for three months. He responded by dieting and taking up Munro bagging, going on to climb 108 of the 284 Scottish Munros (separate mountains over 3000ft).
When Labour suffered its fourth successive defeat in the 1992 General Election, Neil Kinnock resigned, and John Smith was elected to replace him as Leader of the Labour Party. As leader of the opposition to John Major's Government, Smith proved himself an effective operator, and during his tenure the mood of the country began to shift: for the first time in a long time, Labour began to look credible candidates for Government. In 1993 John Smith committed a future Labour Government to establishing a Scottish Parliament. By the beginning of May 1994, the Labour Party were 23% ahead of the Conservatives in opinion polls.
On 12 May 1994, John Smith suffered a second heart attack and died. His funeral was held in Edinburgh, and a memorial service in Westminster Abbey was attended by over 2,000 people. John Smith was buried at the ancient burial ground of Relig Odhráin on the Isle of Iona, where he lies alongside 48 Kings of Dalriada and Scotland, 8 Kings of Norway and 4 Kings of Ireland. As perhaps the best Prime Minister that the UK never had, it is tempting to thing he is in fitting company. John Smith was survived by his wife Elizabeth and their three daughters.