Former colleagues have paid tribute to Keith Harding, an “assiduous and hard-working” former Mid Scotland and Fife MSP who has died following a battle with cancer.
Mr Harding represented the region for the Scottish Conservatives from 1999 as part of the first class of MSPs elected to the new Scottish Parliament.
His time in Holyrood is perhaps best marked by the introduction of his Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill, which saw pet owners handed on-the-spot fines for failing to clean up after their animals.
He also became the first MSP to declare himself as a freemason.
Very sorry to learn this evening of the death of former MSP colleague Keith Harding.
— Liz Smith (@mspliz) November 15, 2021
Mr Harding stayed on as an MSP until 2003 and served as the party’s spokesman on local government and housing.
He then quit the Conservatives and defected to a newly formed rival party, the Scottish People’s Alliance, to contest that year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
Conservative colleague says ‘he will be sadly missed’
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who currently represents Mid Scotland and Fife, paid tribute to the work of Mr Harding – including becoming one of the first MSP’s to bring a Members’ Bill into law.
Mr Fraser said: “Keith had a long and distinguished career in local government before being elected to the first Scottish Parliament in 1999, an achievement of which he was very proud.
“Although he served just one term at Holyrood, he is remembered as an assiduous and hard-working MSP.
“Keith was also one of the first MSPs to successfully bring a Members’ Bill into law, on tackling dog-fouling, the benefits of which we are still living with today.
“He will be sadly missed by all who knew him and worked alongside him.”
MSP pays tribute to ‘a passionate local campaigner’
Speaking on behalf of local Conservative MSPs, Liz Smith – who also represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region, said it was “with great regret we learnt of Keith’s death following a battle with cancer”.
She said: “Both as the leader of Stirling Council in the 1990s, and then as list member for Mid Scotland and Fife, he was a passionate local campaigner and, as an MSP, he had a particular interest in the local government portfolio.
“He will be missed by all of us.”
Mr Harding had a career in banking in the UK and overseas, and was a self-employed newsagent and retailer before becoming an MSP.
He was due to contest the Central Fife seat on behalf of the Conservatives in 2003 and was also fifth on the regional list for Mid-Scotland and Fife.
His resignation came just hours before Scots Tory leader David McLetchie was set to get the party’s election campaign under way with a poster launch in Edinburgh.
‘I’ve got no criticism of the Tory Party’
Mr Harding, who was a Conservative Party member for more than 20 years, sought to become MSP for Stirling for the Scottish People’s Alliance after being the leader of Stirling council from 1991 to 1995. He finished in sixth place.
Speaking at the time of his defection, Mr Harding told the BBC: “I was elected under the Tory banner and I fulfilled my commitment but from midnight last night I was no longer a Conservative MSP, so I decided to join a new party.
“I just feel there is a disenfranchised electorate out there that is centre right and no party in Scotland is addressing that. When I read the SPA manifesto it appealed to me and I would like to fight the election on it.”
The Alliance’s manifesto pledged to abolish the Scottish Parliament in its current form, along with Scotland’s 59 MPs.
A total of 56 MSPs would then fulfil both roles – sitting for part of the time at Westminster on UK issues and for part of the time in Edinburgh in the former Royal High School building.
Mr Harding said it was “unfortunate” that his announcement coincided with the beginning of the Tory election campaign.
He added: “I’ve got no criticism of the Tory Party. I won’t be fighting a dirty campaign, I will be fighting on the policies of the SPA.”