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Tribute to Lord Elder

Lord Elder: 9 May 1950 – 24 October 2023 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Lord Moonie

3 min read

A former general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party with a love for music and the Munros, Murray Elder was a pragmatic socialist known for his dry wit and incisive intellect

When I took the oath before taking my seat in the Lords in 2005, the first person I asked to sponsor me was my old friend Murray Elder. It now falls to me to pay tribute to a man I knew and loved for more than 35 years. I first met him at the house of his sister Kate and her family, where her two sons and mine were classmates, shortly after I was selected to fight the Kirkcaldy constituency when he was general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland. After my predecessor Harry Gourlay died suddenly, I was faced with a by-election and Murray and I became friends, though I (and he) was saved from the ordeal by Mrs Thatcher calling an early general election.

Like all his friends I was stunned to hear that he required a heart transplant, which was successfully completed in 1989. I turned up to see him at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle bearing gifts: a nice Burgundy, some steaks and cheese and cooked us a meal. Rather perturbed to hear him depart from the flat to go back for a checkup in the middle of the night, I was relieved that my perhaps misplaced kindness had had no ill effects.

Thereafter we climbed many Monros together with John Smith, as they both sought to return to physical fitness, and I watched as Murray became one of the architects of Scottish devolution, and became a member of the House of Lords himself. We remained firm friends enjoying many a drink and meal together, where his dry wit and incisive intellect brightened up any conversation he took part in.

He wasn’t an easy man to fathom. Quiet, deep and reflective, not someone who wore his heart on his sleeve though I remember his joy (and mine) watching Raith Rovers beat Celtic to win the League Cup in 1994.

His advice was always carefully considered – and rarely if ever faulty

Politically he was probably to the right of me, supporting the union and membership of the European Union. His advice was always carefully considered – and rarely if ever faulty. The fact that three titans of the Labour Party, John Smith, Donald Dewar, and Gordon Brown, trusted his judgement speaks for itself. On every important issue of the time, as the party struggled to modernise and make itself electable, Murray was there, persuading this one and that one to get in line. Like all pragmatic socialists he kept a clear vision of where he knew we had to be, never allowing his heart to rule his head.

There’s so much more I could say about my friend. His deep love of music, particularly Wagner, which led to frequent visits both to the Edinburgh Festival and to Bayreuth festival in Germany. His convivial nature. His love for his close family. The way in which he gave a huge amount of his time to helping the Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education in Dundee become a successful institute of higher education.

Latterly I’d seen less of Murray as my own health led to my prolonged absence and retiral from the House. I watched as his began to fail, yet despite his frequent readmissions to hospital he carried on doing what he loved: attending the Lords and meeting his many friends.

The fact that I knew this day would come doesn’t make his loss any easier to bear.

Rest in Peace, my dear friend.

Lord Moonie is a former Labour MP and was a member of the House of Lords until his retirement in April 2022

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