Monday, March 19, 2007

He was meant to die

That's Sam Galbraith, the former Scottish Health Minister who I worked for (at some distance) in Scotland in the late 90s. Thanks to my friend Pat for sending me this Observer article.

Sam Galbraith is famous for a number of things - his neurosurgery skills, which, according to some stories, he developed by deciding as a teenager, growing up in Greenock, to play the violin (good choice!), his heart-lung transplant 17 or so years ago, following which he became a member of Parliament first in the UK and then in the first Scottish Parliament, and to us aficionados of the health service, as one of the few Scottish health ministers of recent times to preside over a reduction in the hospital waiting lists.

As a Greenock lad (very close to Glasgow) he has razorsharp wit. On being congratulated on his bedside manner during a hospitals visit he suggested it was due to years of practice communicating with comatose patients. A fellow MSP ventured that not all was well with Galbraith's policies but that his heart was in the right place, to which he replied 'The NHS put it there'. As a good politician, during a visit to a hospital which had recently messed up big time, he said to the media, without blinking 'This is a Firrrst Class Hospital'. Aye, right. I liked his comment in the Observer article about a fellow politician who went straight from university into politics, and 'has never done a decent day's work in his life'. Yes, Mr Galbraith, I know exactly what you mean.....

As a neurosurgeon (which he no longer does) he had a huge reputation. The story went about of him getting a call in the back of the ministerial limo where a colleague, a bit stuck with his fingers in someone's brain, called up the then health minister, who proceeded to talk him through the rest of the operation. We understand that the patient lived.

They don't make them like him anymore. He's the last of the crowd surrounding the late, much lamented Donald Dewar, a giant of a man (even if they called him Donald Dither shortly before he died in office), of the days when Scottish politicians still had intellect and culture. The problem with devolution is that it's very much the B-team that plays in Scotland - the A-team is much more into UK politics.

Galbraith also mentions how he misses climbing the Scottish hills. I was thinking about them a week ago when Mrs Annie Gloag of the Stagecoach bus company, who, having come into riches after the bus privatisations of the late 80s, had bought a castle off an impoverished Scottish family, and who now refuses rambles access to her land (which they had with the previous owners). She says it's for her safety and that of her royal visitors, amongst others. Royal visitors? Anyway, all that put me in mind of the Scottish landscape in spring - when there is some mild sunshine, and the grass begins to turn green, first on the sunny side of the valleys, then throughout the valley, then it goes higher up....and the daffodils here and there, the lambs (some of the earliest lambs in Scotland were near Maybole where we used to live), the moment when, for the first time in the year, you can leave a door or window wide open, with the sun streaming in..... And the spring lasts a while, not like in otherwise wonderful Lithuania, where it lasts an hour....

One can miss a place sometimes!