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EDITIONS
Donald Dewar Sunday, 22 October, 2000, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
McLeish aiming to steady ship
Mr McLeish and Mr McConnell
Mr McLeish narrowly defeated Mr McConnell
Labour's interim leader in Scotland, Henry McLeish, has been talking about his vision for the future of Scottish politics.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Eye to Eye programme, Mr McLeish said he hoped to use the role of first minister to build on the progress already made within the Scottish Parliament.

He said the institution should be made both proud and purposeful.

He refused to be drawn on his plans for re-shuffling the Scottish Executive, but said he would be taking steps to tackle discontentment among backbench MSPs.


I think we are only scratching the surface of devolution at the present time

Henry McLeish
Mr McLeish defeated Finance Minister Jack McConnell by 44 votes to 36 at a special meeting of the party's executive in Stirling on Saturday.

Mr McLeish admitted that the result of the vote had been closer than his team had predicted.

He blamed the short campaign following former leader Donald Dewar's funeral on Wednesday and a wave of backbench disaffection with the leadership.

Mr McLeish said he had heard concerns from a number of MSPs who felt their skills were being under-utilised in the Scottish Parliament.

He said he would take steps to appease disgruntled members.

Chamber scene
Some MSPs feel they have been left out
He also said that he planned to include Mr McConnell in his plans for the Scottish Executive, but refused to be drawn on the details.

He said: "What I found during the two days was that there is a lot of disaffection on the backbenches.

"This goes back a long time and I see it as one of my first tasks to try to get them involved more in what is the Holyrood Project, but more important, the mission of carrying forward some of our policies.

"It was quite clear to me that a lot of them felt that they weren't as involved as they should be.

"A lot of them felt they had skills, experiences, talents to be offered that hadn't been taken up.

'Need to refocus'

"What I want to do over the next few days is get together with a number of colleagues to come up with a new programme of how that can be done."

Mr McLeish refused to be drawn for reshuffling the Scottish ministers, but said: "We will be moving very quickly on a whole number of issues because again we need to refocus.

Mr McLeish
Mr McLeish refused to be drawn on reshuffle plans
"That means, in a sense, that I can put my imprint on what is happening and I'm going to be doing that very quickly."

On allegations of interference from Westminster, Mr McLeish said: "Jack McConnell, myself, all the cabinet have very good strong relationships with the prime minister, with the chancellor, with John Reid, with Brian Wilson - because that's the nature of devolution, its devolution within the United Kingdom.

"I hope that after the contest at the weekend that those strong relationships will continue.

"I dismiss claims that this is London led, or London interfering. At the end of the day, we are good colleagues together, we're all working together and that's in the best interests of Scotland."

"I have been involved in politics for a long number of years now and I really relish the thought of, for the first time, in what is tragic circumstances, of being the leader of the party so that I can put my own imprint on it.

'Proud parliament'

"But let me say, it will be a very Scottish imprint because the real nub of devolution is to devolve services, to devolve finance, but it is also to make it distinctively Scottish.

"I think we are only scratching the surface of devolution at the present time and I would hope with my colleagues over the next few days and next few weeks to show people that this is not an annexe of the United Kingdom, this is a very proud, very purposeful parliament in which I will take a very Scottish role indeed."

Scottish National Party leader John Swinney said Mr McLeish had "no democratic mandate".

He said: "Labour have emerged from their bogus leadership 'election' in a significantly weaker position.

'Lack of authority'

"They have failed to live up to the standards of Scotland's new democracy, and the Scottish people will pass judgment on them in both the Westminster and Holyrood elections.

"Henry McLeish has no democratic mandate from his own party - never mind from the country - and the SNP will expose his lack of authority and hold him to account daily in Scotland's Parliament."

Mr McLeish is expected to be confirmed as Donald Dewar's successor in the Scottish Parliament this week.

The official process of electing a new Labour leader will not, however, be concluded until 20 December.


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21 Oct 00 | Donald Dewar
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