A portrait of Scotland’s inaugural First Minister has been removed from public view at Holyrood after a vandal defaced the exhibit.
Police have been called in after someone scrawled the initials “JC” on the frame of the Donald Dewar artwork.
Speculation was rife at Holyrood over who the mysterious scribbler could be and whether they had intended the damage to promote the campaign of left-wing Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn – not exactly a natural ally of the more “New Labour-minded” Dewar.
The oil on canvas portrait was painted by Killearn-artist Anne H Mackintosh soon after Labour’s 1997 general election landslide, when Dewar was returned as MP for Glasgow Anniesland and appointed Tony Blair’s secretary of state for Scotland – tasked with delivering devolution.
In between pioneering the 1997 devolution referendum that paved the way for the Scottish Parliament, Dewar found time to pose for the portrait during two sittings with the artist, who also used video footage of the Labour politician to complete the painting in 1998. However, the portrait, which was gifted to the parliament by Dewar’s children after the former First Minister’s death, has now been removed from its prime location at Holyrood after cleaning staff spotted the letters “JC” in highly visible black ink on the frame.
Officials suspect the gold-coloured gilt frame of the portrait of Dewar, who died in 2000 less than 18 months into devolution, was damaged by a visitor to the parliament rather than anyone working in the building.
The vandalism means Dewar’s painting has had to be removed from its spot outside the parliament’s members’ restaurant, close to the debating chamber, and will not be on show during Holyrood’s annual Festival of Politics this month.
Politicians across the divide were puzzled as to who the “JC” scrawled on Dewar’s portrait frame could be, but were agreed that the former First Minister would not have been a supporter of Mr Corbyn, whom polls suggest could be on course for a shock victory in Labour’s leadership election.
Labour MSP Richard Baker said: “We can only guess which JC it is meant to be, but if it is meant to be Jeremy Corbyn, it’s fair to say that Jeremy and Donald’s politics are pretty far apart.
“I’m sure that no serious supporter of Jeremy Corbyn would deface a portrait of Donald Dewar.”
Conservative member Alex Johnstone said it was unlikely that Mr Corbyn’s supporters would use a portrait of a key figure from the Blair years to promote their candidate and joked that others could be responsible.
He said: “We have to be suspicious of everyone with the letters JC, but in this Machiavellian age it could be that it was done by someone else and some may suspect rogue supporters of the rivals of Jeremy Corbyn.”
Dewar’s portrait was put on public view alongside one of the SNP’s Winnie Ewing, but the Labour legend’s picture is now in storage at the parliament while curating staff arrange to have it sent away for repair work.
Officials said it was hoped that the image of the former First Minister would be back in parliament when MSPs return from the summer recess next month.
The cost of repairing the damage is not yet known.