LEADING figures in the Capital have spoken of their sadness at the death of veteran left-wing Labour politician Tony Benn.
The former Cabinet minister was a frequent visitor to the city and took pride in his links with Leith – his father, William, had been Liberal MP for the port from 1918-27, and fought against its amalgamation with Edinburgh.
Mr Benn died yesterday, aged 88, surrounded by his family.
Edinburgh North and Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz said: “It’s a great loss not just for the Labour Party but the wider progressive movement. He was a man of principle who stood up for his beliefs and people respected him for that even if they disagreed with him.
“He came to Edinburgh on numerous occasions and he was very proud of his Leith connection.”
Although born in London, Mr Benn regularly boasted he had Leith on his birth certificate as his father’s profession was given as “MP for Leith”.
Former Edinburgh East Labour MP Gavin Strang, who served with Mr Benn in the Labour government of 1974-79 and voted for him in the deputy leadership contest with Denis Healey in 1981, said: “He was a great figure in British politics. Not everyone agreed with him, but we are so much the better for what he contributed.
“He loved Edinburgh and came repeatedly to speak here.” Dr Strang recalled how Prime Minister Harold Wilson had moved Mr Benn from industry to energy in what was seen as a demotion, but which he seized on as an opportunity.
Mr Strang said: “Tony Benn moved to the left as he got older. The tensions between him and Harold Wilson were there to be seen, but Harold handled him better than successive Labour leaders.
“He wanted Tony out of industry and gave him energy instead. We had quite a good North Sea oil policy, which is often lost sight of – we set up the British National Oil Corporation as the state oil company, we moved the Offshore Supplies Office to Scotland and the benefits of North Sea oil revenues were meant to go to the Scottish Development Agency to support areas that were weak. Tony was very influential in that whole area.”
As well as frequent visits to speak at political meetings, Mr Benn also appeared in recent years on the Fringe, sharing a chat show just last year with former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway.
He also led Time for Reflection in the Scottish Parliament in 2008.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “Tony was a giant of the Labour movement. Even in his later years, he remained relevant and influential with his wit and wisdom on a range of issues, from international affairs to Scottish devolution.”
Edinburgh councillor and Scottish Greens co-convener Maggie Chapman said: “Tony Benn was a truly great man, and a hero for me as he was for so many others. He taught us how to be socialists; he was a ferocious fighter when necessary, but also full of humour, openness, patience and love. He trusted working people above elites, always – the mark of a true democrat.”