While the two have been long-serving MPs and their retirements were far from surprising, I personally feel a sense of an era coming to an inevitable end. Having developed an interest in politics at a time when the Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs included in their number Russell Johnston, Jim Wallace, Bob Maclennan, Ray Michie, Charles Kennedy and David Steel – in addition to Ming and Malcolm – of those great Scottish giants of liberalism only Charles will remain after 2015 (assuming he keeps his seat). It is with some sadness that I read of Ming’s decision and, while I wish him the best for his retirement, cannot help but feel a sense of nostalgia for that wonderful Lib Dem parliamentary team of the 1990s.
Inevitably time moves on. Time, as Sir Menzies Campbell is more than aware, is often unkind to politicians, and especially so in the case party leaders.
Nick Clegg today spoke of him as having "served this country and our party with unparalleled distinction". he is absolutely correct on both counts. Clegg was not quite so accurate when he described Ming as "an outstanding leader", but it is not for his leadership of the Liberal Democrats that he should be most remembered. He was impressive on international issues, never more so in his opposition to the Iraq war and his denunciation of the Blair-Bush relationship. He was (and is) also a strong liberal voice on defence, is a supporter of multilateral nuclear disarmament and has been outspoken in his criticisms of Israeli human rights abuses.
Menzies Campbell, like all of us, is the product of a unique time and place. What is particularly obvious about him is his Scottishness, and how this affects his outlook and personal politics. His social conscience and internationalist perspective can be traced back to his young life and his time at Glasgow University, where he debated with such other aspiring political talents as John Smith and Donald Dewar.
His impressive record as an Olympic sprinter should also not be overlooked, and underlines the determined nature of the man. This characteristic was also evident in his drive to ensure that "the Liberal Democrats are the party of ideas and innovation in Britain."
He was also the man who famously compared a Labour reshuffle to "shuffling a pretty battered deck of cards", and who observed that "in the early days, Tony Blair walked on water. He looks a bit waterlogged at the moment."
I cannot possibly speculate how Menzies Campbell would want us to remember him, but I suspect his title is important to him. He would have been immensely proud to be cited in the Queen's Birthday Honours List as "one of the most respected politicians of his generation". So, thank you Sir Menzies Campbell for the memories and the legacy. Parliament, and politics generally, won't be quite the same without you.