Charles Kennedy, leading light in Highland politics, dies age 55

Charles Kennedy, for over three decades the leading figure in Highland politics, has died at his home in Fort William.

He was 55, and had served as an MP in the region for 32 years – having first won the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat for the Social Democrat Party in 1983.

Constituency boundaries would change over the years, but Mr Kennedy was returned to Westminster a further six times — until he lost the Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat to the SNP at the general election last month.

With the typically dry, incisive wit for which he was renowned, he described the defeat as the “night of the long Sgian Dubhs” — as he was just one of a number of high-profile parliamentarians who had lost their seats.

Mr Kennedy’s was known as a formidable debater – and last year he helped pass on some of his expertise to Portree High School pupils in the run up to the referendum

Mr Kennedy led the Liberal Democrats between 1999 and 2006 — a period which saw the party claim 62 Westminster seats in the 2005 election, their best result since the 1920s.

His personal problems were well documented, and he resigned as leader in 2006. But he continued to be a popular and well-respected constituency MP — winning over 50 per cent of the vote and a 13,000 majority at the 2010 election.

At a debate hosted by the West Highland Free Press in the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014, Mr Kennedy said he considered himself Scottish, British and European — but first and foremost a Highlander — and his own identity and political outlook had been shaped by the area and the people he knew best.

A full tribute to Charles Kennedy will appear in this week’s West Highland Free Press.