Sir Alex Fergusson, who has died at 69, was the gentleman farmer turned Scottish MP who kept the country’s politicians in check in Holyrood’s first minority government.
Initially reluctant to take on the role of presiding officer in Edinburgh in 2007, he was persuaded out of a sense of duty. The then Conservative MSP was the third senior politician to take on the role after the devolved Scottish Parliament was set up in 1999.
At a time when Alex Salmond’s minority SNP administration sometimes had to fight to get its proposals through the parliament, he served in the role – similar to that of Speaker in the House of Commons – for four years, and was regarded by politicians from across the chamber as being firm but fair in his dealings with them.
Unusually, after stepping down from the position he remained in the parliament, returning to serve the rural communities of the south of Scotland.
Born outside the rural village of Leswalt in Dumfries and Galloway, he was educated at Eton, before spending two years working in agriculture in New Zealand.
On his return, he studied at the West of Scotland Agricultural College, later taking over his family’s 1,500-acre farm in South Ayrshire, where he reared cattle and sheep between 1971 and his election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
Having represented others as a community councillor, he became MSP for the South of Scotland area in the first devolved Scottish elections, before going on to represent Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, and then Galloway and West Dumfries.
He entered politics mainly to champion rural causes in his own area, saying: “I was particularly exercised by the fact that whenever anybody talked about rural Scotland, they seemed to talk about the Highlands and Islands.
“I come from the south of Scotland and I was keen to provide a rural voice from the south of Scotland.”
After retiring from Holyrood at the 2016 election he was knighted for his services to politics, the Scottish Parliamentary process and public life in Scotland
When he stepped down, he said serving as an MSP had been “an immense privilege, an honour that will stay with me for as long as I have a memory at all”.
In his time he also worked as a farm management consultant, president of the Blackface Sheepbreeders’ Association and member of the Scottish Landowners’ Federation and Game Conservancy, as well as a farm labourer and even an onion picker.
He is survived by his wife Merryn and three sons.