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32SPRING 2012PEOPLEFEW POLITICIANS over the past half century havegained such a reputation as Tam Dalyell. In adistinguished 43-year career at Westminster herattled many cages and, it may safely be said,perpetuated the true spirit of British politics.Principally Dalyell is now remembered as the thornin the side of Margaret Thatcher, with his criticismof the sinking of the Argentine cruiser GeneralBelgrano in 1982 and his attacks on the Gulf War in1990. He has also continued to pursue the truthbehind the Lockerbie bombing. It is hardlysurprising, then, that his new autobiography shouldbe entitled The Importance of Being Awkward. But, asit reveals, there is another side to this extraordinaryman than the ability to agitate. A highly intelligent,considered and considerate side which is typified bya relationship with the National Trust for Scotlandthat goes back almost 70 years. For it was Dalyell's family, who shortly after theend of the Second World War, struck the first majorbargain with the then nascent Trust by handing overownership in perpetuity of their family home, theHouse of the Binns, in West Lothian.The Dalyells are an illustrious family, not least onaccount of Tam's ancestor, General Tam Dalyell, whoin 1678 founded the cavalry regiment that wouldbecome known as the Royal Scots Greys, and that istoday one of the principal constituents, along withthe Carabiners, of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.Growing up with such a past must have had aneffect on Dalyell, and it cannot have been easywhen, called up for National Service, he chose tojoin the Greys as a trooper, although his very nameshowed his ancestor had founded the regiment. But if the regiment was part of General Tam'slegacy, another was his house. The House of theBinns is one of the finest small country properties inScotland. Although described to me by Dalyell as"small beer" in comparison with other nationalproperties, it is evidently nothing of the sort.Built by General Tam's father Thomas Dalyellbetween 1621 and 1630, it was extended in the later19th century with the addition of a tower. What wesee today is largely the work of William Burn, whoin the early 1800s added more towers andcastellations to create a Scots Baronial masterpiece.It was the house's designed landscape, though,that was one of the prime reasons the Trust asked forA lifelongrelationshipPhotograph: Tam Dalyell is proud to proclaimhis awkwardness. But for half acentury his cordial relations withthe Trust have allowed hisbeautiful family home to beenjoyed by all, writes Iain Gale