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banner Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 12:35 GMT
McConnell admits to affair
Jack McConnell and his wife Bridget
Jack McConnell and his wife Bridget
Scottish Labour leader-elect Jack McConnell has admitted that he had an extra-marital affair seven years ago.

The education minister confirmed the reports during a media conference in Edinburgh designed to clear the air over allegations concerning his private life.

"I did have an affair seven years ago," he told journalists.

I had one affair and I am making that clear today. I regret that very much

Jack McConnell
"At the time I made mistakes, including denying the facts publicly and privately. I let everybody down."

Mr McConnell addressed the media just hours before he was confirmed as the only person seeking to succeed Henry McLeish as Scottish Labour leader and first minister.

Deputy health minister Malcolm Chisholm dropped out on Tuesday morning after failing to secure enough backing amongst MSPs.

That left Labour left-winger John McAllion as the only other potential candidate - but he gave in after admitting to difficulties in securing the nominations which would enable him to run.

Mr McConnell had indicated that he wanted to fight an "open and honest" campaign based on ideas and policies.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm abandoned his bid
However, he had been worried that his bid for the leadership could be hampered by innuendo.

He told Tuesday's media conference that he wanted to be clear about one aspect of his past.

"The position of first minister of Scotland is a very serious responsibility and there must be no distractions in that position," he said.

"I want to be very clear, I had one affair and I am making that clear today. I regret that very much."

He said that he and his wife Bridget, Glasgow City Council's director of cultural services, had discussed the affair on many occasions over the last seven years.

It goes without saying that he hurt everyone involved

Bridget McConnell
"If I become first minister it would be very wrong for my family or anybody else to suffer because my behaviour then is still a secret today.

"That is why we are now being open about the fact that I did have an affair seven years ago."

Mrs McConnell said that she and her husband had rebuilt their marriage and their family.

"We have decided now to speak publicly about the fact that Jack betrayed my trust seven years ago by having an affair.

"It goes without saying that he hurt everyone involved."

Mr McConnell said he had always tried to keep his family life private and asked the Scottish media to respect that privacy.

He also told the media conference that his bid for the leadership of the party had the support of a majority of his fellow Labour MSPs.

Nominations close

"I want to be first minister because I am proud of Scotland's new parliament and I also believe that leading our team in that Scottish Parliament, I can make a difference," he said.

Leadership candidates had to show their hand before nominations closed at 1700 GMT on Tuesday.

A meeting of the party's 55 MSPs and the 29-member Scottish executive team will now be called to hold an "affirmative ballot".

Sources have said it is likely that such a meeting will be held in the next few days.

If Mr McConnell secures more than 50% of that vote, he becomes leader of the party and it will then be up to all MSPs to vote on his bid to become first minister.

However, it is expected Labour's majority and support from their Liberal Democrat partners will secure his position.

The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"His wife expressed her support"
Cathy Jamieson, deputy leader, Scottish Labour
"It is a shame that a private matter has had to be brought into the public domain"
See also:

10 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
Deacon rules herself out of contest
09 Nov 01 | Scotland
Search begins for new first minister
11 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
Trade union warns leadership hopefuls
Links to more McLeish resignation stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more McLeish resignation stories