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McLeish resignation Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 16:14 GMT
Profile: Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell awaits the top job
Name: Jack McConnell

Born: Irvine

Age: 42

Education: BSc Dip Ed from Stirling University

MSP for: Motherwell and Wishaw

Position: First minister and Scottish Labour leader

A public admission that you betrayed your wife is hardly an ideal way to start any bid to become Scotland's next first minister.

It raises immediate questions about personal integrity, individual honesty and gives the country's press pack a taste for blood.

But Jack McConnell, who is now leader of the Labour Party north of the border, is a political risk taker who makes calculated gambles, which predecessor Henry McLeish avoided.

It has been this strong survival instinct, above all else, which has transformed the ambitious former maths teacher into Scotland's first minister.

Jack McConnell in class
The former teacher is at home in the classroom
Although the 41-year-old education minister was born in Irvine he was raised on a sheep farm on the picturesque Isle of Arran, which lies off Scotland's west coast.

He was educated at the local high school in Lamlash before leaving the small island to attend the University of Stirling where he gained a teaching qualification.

During this time, Mr McConnell's interest in politics germinated and he served as president of the university's students association.

After graduation he became a maths teacher and in 1984, at the age of 24, was elected to Stirling District Council where he served until 1992.

During his eight-year tenure he became treasurer and was elected leader of the ruling Labour administration in 1990.

Shrewd operator

It was Mr McConnell's next job, however, which laid the foundations for his bid to become first minister.

As general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party between 1992 and 1998, he earned a reputation as a shrewd operator who could handle media attention.

He also built up a power base among party members, MPs and councillors - a feat which would later give him a head start on any leadership rivals.

Mr McConnell is a confident performer in parliament
Mr McConnell's sure-footed handling of party affairs was rewarded in 1997 when he was given the job of co-ordinating Labour's Yes Yes devolution referendum campaign.

Following a successful campaign he was appointed as Scottish Labour's spokesman for environmental affairs during the 1999 Holyrood elections.

In between these two party roles, Mr McConnell became a public affairs consultant with the Scottish lobbying firm Beattie Media - a decision that steered him close to political ruin.

After the party's failure to win a clear majority at Holyrood, he was appointed finance minister in Donald Dewar's coalition Scottish Executive.

This role gave him responsibility for a multi-billion pound budget and the "modernising government" agenda - reforming the civil service and local councils in Scotland and bringing them into the electronic age.

Robust style

His slick persona and confident - some would say cocky - performances in parliament earned him the nickname Jumping Jack Flash.

But his naturally robust style often brought him into confrontation with colleagues and Mr Dewar once had to tell Mr McConnell and Health Minister Susan Deacon to "stop bickering".

However, his blackest hour soon descended in the form of "lobbygate" - a scandal rooted in Mr McConnell's time at Beattie Media.

Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish beat Mr McConnell in last year's race
A newspaper alleged that an undercover journalist had evidence that the company's executives were offering preferential access to Scottish ministers and openly boasted that Mr McConnell was a former employee of the firm.

A parliamentary probe later cleared him of any wrongdoing and Mr McConnell's reputation recovered.

When Mr Dewar died suddenly last year, the ambitious finance minister saw his chance to grab the reins of power and was only narrowly defeated by Henry McLeish.

He managed to take the contest a lot closer than anyone thought possible and demonstrated that he had a strong groundswell of support among backbench MSPs.

Mr McLeish rewarded his challenger with the "poisoned chalice" of education - a portfolio tainted by the SQA crisis and pay disputes with teaching unions.

Survival instinct

But, as Mr McConnell resolved both these issues and grew in stature, the first minister was being weakened by an embarrassing series of gaffes and an apparent inability to kill the officegate story which eventually brought him down.

Mr McConnell was immediately installed as the front-runner to succeed as first minister but his close observation of Mr McLeish's demise rankled those strong survival instincts which had taken him far.

His admission to having an affair was in direct response to newspaper assertions that they would scrutinise any candidate's private life.

Jack and Bridget McConnell
Jack and Bridget McConnell met reporters
In a classic case of PR crisis management, Mr McConnell seized the initiative, came clean and seemingly spiked the guns of tabloid editors who may have hoped to embarrass him.

It was an audacious act by an ambitious politician and demonstrates that he will not procrastinate when the gauntlet is thrown down.

In many ways, Jack McConnell is Scotland's first truly Scottish first minister. He has lived and worked in the country all his life and is not a Westminster animal like both predecessors.

His unopposed procession for the Labour leadership was clear evidence that he has outflanked all of his political peers.

His public admission on infidelity is also proof that he is a "canny" politician who prefers to take the fight to the media than sit back and be picked off.

Hard work and good fortune have helped Mr McConnell progress thus far.

In fact, those key factors became paramount in his elevation from local politics to the Scottish Parliament.

His name might have been no more than a footnote in the history books if he had not won by just two votes his party selection fight to stand as an MSP.

So desperate to be a new member of Scotland's new democracy, Mr McConnell knocked on every door of every Labour Party member in his constituency pleading for their support.

That week-long foot-slogging trudge around Wishaw and Motherwell paid off back then.

And when Mr McConnell was elected to lead his country through the early years of the new century he was no doubt thinking back to how crucial those two Labour Party members' votes were.

See also:

20 Sep 00 | Scotland
20 Dec 99 | Scotland
10 Nov 99 | Scotland
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