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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 22:21 GMT
Backbench support 'crucial to McLeish'
Henry McLeish with the media
Mr McLeish has been guarded with the media
The first minister has been warned that backbench support will be crucial to his ability to weather the current political storm of Officegate.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Newsdrive programme, Strathclyde University's political analyst, Malcolm Dickson, said the first minister must get to grips with his present predicament.

As long as the first minister enjoyed the support of those within the Labour Party then he would survive the present row, Mr Dickson said.

Mr McLeish has been embroiled in controversy since it emerged that he sub-let part of his constituency office to a law firm, Digby Brown.

Office sign
The row centres around Mr McLeish's Fife office

He agreed to repay the House of Commons Fees Office 9,000 in allowances he received to run his constituency office while he was MP for Central Fife.

But critics have continued to raise questions over the financial arrangements for that office.

Mr Dickson said: "I think there is an issue of substance here.

"And that issue is that essentially since 1997 the Labour government at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament have tried to get to grips with this idea of sleaze which blighted the Tories during their last period in office.

'Skeletons in closets'

"Now they have changed the rules and tightened things like expenses and all these matters. But as a consequence it means that the media has a lot more to dig into in terms of skeletons in closets from that time previous to 1997."

Mr McLeish should have drawn a line under the affair before now, or exhibited greater leadership in dealing with the issue, Mr Dickson added.

"What we have is a situation which looks at best as ineptitude and at worst like he has something to hide," Mr Dickson said.

Mr Dickson went on: "What is crucial is the support of his backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament. This week will be crucial in taking soundings on their opinion.

"If it came to a vote on Thursday and a subsequent vote of confidence then I have no hesitation in saying that Mr McLeish would survive.

"But if he loses the support of those backbenchers and if that begins to crumble or begins to waiver which there are signs of, then he may eventually decide to go himself."

Malcolm Dickson, Strathclyde University
"Henry McLeish has a crisis here which is much of his own making"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | Scotland
McLeish shuns expenses questions
05 Nov 01 | Scotland
Bad days at the office for McLeish
04 Nov 01 | Scotland
Taxman to probe 'Officegate'
02 Nov 01 | Scotland
Swinney urges first minister to act
02 Nov 01 | Scotland
McLeish fails to quell expenses row
01 Nov 01 | Scotland
McLeish issues office row challenge
30 Oct 01 | Scotland
Pressure builds on first minister
30 Oct 01 | Scotland
Labour admits McLeish office 'error'
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
McLeish pays back expenses
04 Oct 01 | Scotland
Minister faces expenses scrutiny
13 Jun 01 | Scotland
McLeish standards inquiry dropped
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