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McLeish resignation Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 16:28 GMT
McConnell's clear run to the top job
Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell has now become first minister
By BBC News Online Scotland's Brian Ponsonby

Jack McConnell's elevation to Scottish Labour leader capped a remarkable year and put him within touching distance of the top political job in the country.

With no last minute disasters, nothing stood in the way of the Motherwell and Wishaw MSP's confirmation as Scotland's first minister on Thursday.

That triumph was in marked contrast to his fortunes last November when he lost out to Henry McLeish in the race to succeed Donald Dewar.

This time around he only needed to confirm the support of Labour's coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, to become Scotland's third first minister since devolution.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace's support is essential to Mr McConnell
The road ahead for Jack McConnell was almost clear but it would have been complacent to assume it was without difficulty.

On Tuesday he held crunch talks with Jim Wallace's Liberal Democrats to secure their support in Thursday's vote to elect the new first minister.

Although Mr Wallace had stated he would not attempt re-negotiate the partnership agreement between both parties, he sought assurances over Labour's commitment to proportional representation in local government.

That was duly done and Mr McConnell's name went forward in the ballot for first minister.

He was challenged - unsuccessfully - in the Scottish Parliament by Scottish National Party leader John Swinney. David McLetchie also put his name forward for the Scottish Conservatives, while Dennis Canavan stood as an independent.

Cabinet reshuffle

Following Mr McConnell's formal installation in the top job he is expected to spend a few days considering the make-up of his ministerial team.

High profile jobs are likely to be handed out to his staunchest supporters although it is too early to say which ones.

Indications should emerge over the weekend as to whether Mr McConnell's cabinet reshuffle will be a 'night of the long knives' or a 'night of the pen knives'.

Jack and Bridget McConnell
Mr McConnell has admitted to an affair
He will then have to return to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 28 November to have his new ministerial selections ratified. Again, this should be a formality.

Only one issue really had the capacity to derail Mr McConnell's carefully laid plans for becoming first minister - scandal.

Since he admitted to having an affair, while general secretary of Scottish Labour seven years ago, Mr McConnell has been under extreme pressure from sections of the press.

On Friday night the Labour Party warned newspapers to be responsible in their coverage of his leadership bid.

Party sources told BBC Scotland that some editors were going to extraordinary lengths to find stories about Mr McConnell's private life.

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See also:

17 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
17 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
14 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
13 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
10 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
09 Nov 01 | Scotland
11 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
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