IT was futile to hope that debate about who should succeed Donald Dewar would wait upon his funeral. The First Minister himself, well used to the ways of his party and the media, would not have expected such decorum. At least the provisions of the Scotland Act mean that a successor has to be chosen quickly. The protracted machinations built into Labour's own electoral procedures will surely mean little once the party's MSPs and its executive have made their choice this weekend.
Or perhaps that is to underestimate Labour's usual delight in making life difficult for itself.
Mr Dewar, a modest man, would have been more concerned by the much expressed view that there is no one of stature to take his place and that therefore the prospects of the Parliament are put in question. Of course, on the Labour benches only he had held a Brtish Cabinet post after nearly four decades of political experience. But the First Minister's post enhanced his prestige while also exposing his weakness in handling some of the Parliament's problems. His successor will grow into the job, just as Jim Wallace and David McLetchie have thrived in theirs and John Swinney will, too.
Whoever becomes First Minister the subsequent reshuffle will almost certainly mean changes in the education departments. Henry McLeish has handled the enterprise and lifelong learning portfolio with skill, not least in avoiding tarnish from the student fees row and the exams fiasco. He will either get the top job or move on. The time may have come, however, for Sam Galbraith, a friend of Mr Dewar's, to retire to the backbenches. In the junior ranks Peter Peacock has starred and is due promotion.