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McLeish resignation Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 20:21 GMT
McLeish's year in power
First Minister Henry McLeish
McLeish faced a turbulent year in power
By BBC News Online's Deirdre Kelly

Henry McLeish had been Scotland's first minister for just over a year when he tendered his resignation.

He was elected to the position following the death of Donald Dewar and inherited the toughest job in Scottish politics.

Many will remember when he was sworn in as first minister. His voice was breaking with emotion when he told MSPs last year: "This is a day of excitement, of exhilaration. This is a very great privilege. Thanks for the honour, I won't let you down."

Mr McLeish had a tough act to follow in Donald Dewar - the great father of Scottish politics whom, even from his sick bed, could exert control over his team.

It had long been thought that Mr McLeish would take over some day from the ageing Mr Dewar. But the timing was not of Mr McLeish's or Mr Dewar's making.


There has been a lot of dancing on pinheads in relation to this matter..... we are embracing the principles of Sutherland in full

Henry McLeish on Scotland's elderly care plan
When Mr Dewar died suddenly in September last year a leadership battle ensued between Mr McLeish and the then Finance Minister Jack McConnell.

Mr McConnell had solid rank and file support, but it was thought Mr McLeish's experience as an MP at Westminster helped him secure the post.

By the time Mr McLeish took the hot seat, the face of Scottish politics had changed.

Alex Salmond had gone as Scottish National Party leader and first minister's questions now featured two new names, Mr McLeish and John Swinney.

110m cost

On the question of policy, a major defining issue for Mr McLeish has been free personal care for the elderly.

The Sutherland Commission recommended that, when older people need basic help to wash, dress and cook, it should be provided free at the point of use and not be means tested.

The executive's knee-jerk reaction was to reject the costly proposal.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell: Competed for the job
But before Mr McLeish had barely warmed the seat of his first minister's chair, he announced a U-turn on policy.

Scotland's elderly would have the free service, said the new leader, at a cost of 110m per year.

Mr McLeish, to mark his 100th day in power, told the nation: "There has been a lot of dancing on pinheads in relation to this matter..... we are embracing the principles of Sutherland in full."

He had silenced the opposition and his populist move was applauded up and down the country.

But adulation was short lived.

Tricky matter

The announcement reportedly left Labour at Westminster feeling uneasy.

Although Mr McLeish had made a clear decision on a matter devolved to Holyrood it had implications for England and Wales.

The obvious retort was, if Scotland's elderly can get free personal care so should those in the rest of the UK.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander: Reports of unrest
There was also another tricky matter for Mr McLeish, that of paying for the project.

The executive was hoping part of the cost would be recouped through the 55 a week "attendance allowance" most elderly and infirm people receive from the UK benefits system.

But the Treasury was reported to have flexed its muscles and said it would not allow Scotland to opt out of the UK's unified social security system.

Westminster had already been bruised by a student tuition fees deal north of the border and a similar post-devolution problem seemed to have emerged.

Other tensions between Edinburgh and Westminster have been evident during Mr McLeish's tenure.

He stepped in and insisted the executive should be referred to as a "government" after suggestions that it should change its title to avoid confusion with the government at Westminster.

Personal stamp

And, less judiciously, he was overheard making less than flattering remarks about ministerial colleagues Dr John Reid and Brian Wilson during a discussion with Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell after the general election.

McLeish also found himself bunkered when he sought to put his personal stamp on Scotland's 2009 Ryder Cup bid, which was effectively lost to a competitor in Wales.

Scotland was awarded the competition four years later, but the campaign was seen by many as a disaster.

News Online looks at some the of battles Henry McLeish has faced
As for Mr McLeish's Cabinet, publicly they had been fairly well behaved.

However, in March this year Mr McLeish was accused of having a lack of control after reports that Enterprise Minister, Wendy Alexander, "threw a tantrum" when she was ordered to take responsibility for water authorities in the wake of Environment Minister Sam Galbraith's resignation.

In the same month, the first minister had to handle the resignation of the Liberal Democrat deputy minister for parliament Tavish Scott.

The MSP went after rebels voted to defeat the Scottish Executive over funding for the fishing industry.

At the time, Mr McLeish admitted fears that the issue might "pose problems" for the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition.

Before events in October and November, March might have been seen as Mr McLeish's toughest month.

But on Thursday the first minister capitulated to calls for his resignation, ending a brief but turbulent period at the top.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Scotland's Alan Mackay
"It was here 20 years ago McLeish first tasted political power"
See also:

11 Jan 01 | Scotland
28 Jan 01 | Scotland
26 Oct 00 | Scotland
19 Oct 00 | Donald Dewar
Links to more McLeish resignation stories are at the foot of the page.


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