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banner Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 19:50 GMT
McLeish steps down
Henry McLeish arrives in the parliament
The first minister arrives to make his statement
Henry McLeish has confirmed his decision to resign as Scotland's first minister in a statement to MSPs.

The Central Fife MSP said he took "full personal responsibility" for the mistakes which had been made over the sub letting of his constituency office in Glenrothes.

But he said he had been "astonished" at the way his family, friends, staff and colleagues had been brought into the Officegate row.


Let me acknowledge again today my mistakes in a matter of constituency office sub lets and my mistakes in the way I handled that matter

Henry McLeish
Mr McLeish stressed again that he had not made any personal gain from the matter, which centres on the sub let of part of his Fife office over his 14 years as an MP at Westminster.

But he said he wanted the Scottish Parliament to be able to continue with its "real and pressing business" with the minimum of distraction.

"That is why I am resigning," he said.

Both the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party had been demanding the first minister's resignation over the Officegate row, but he had been expected to survive a debate on Thursday as he had the support of Labour and Liberal Democrats MSPs.

However, it is believed that fresh revelations over a sixth sub let of his Fife office led to his decision to step down.

Mr McLeish's office
The row centred around Mr McLeish's Fife office
Two days earlier he had admitted receiving 36,000 in rent from five companies while a Westminster MP without registering the income with the Commons authorities.

He had already agreed to repay 9,000 to the fees office and said he was prepared to pay back the remaining cash if necessary.

But it is understood that on Wednesday evening he learned of the discovery of a sixth sub let to a charity, which had not been disclosed to him by those investigating the matter.

MSPs were first informed of his shock decision by Parliament Minister Tom McCabe as they gathered for Thursday morning's debate.

Business was then postponed until Mr McLeish's personal statement, which he began shortly after 1430 GMT.

'My responsibility alone'

"Let me acknowledge again today my mistakes in a matter of constituency office sub lets and my mistakes in the way I handled that matter," he told MSPs.

But he said: "What has surprised and dismayed me over the past few weeks has been how my family, friends, staff and colleagues have been brought into matters which are my responsibility alone - and how they have been made to suffer.

"That focus, that attention, has astonished them and me."

He said he was proud of his role in bringing about devolution, but was even more proud of his party's role.

"I would be the last person to willingly or knowingly put the principles behind these new and great institutions at risk, and in doing so put at risk everything I have cherished in over 25 years in politics," he said.


It is a great shame that Henry's career as first minister should end in these circumstances

Prime Minister Tony Blair
He promised to continue to work as an MSP for the people of Central Fife.

"If I have let them down in this matter, I have served them - I hope I have served them well - in many others," he said.

He added that he was proud of what he had achieved in parliament, in the Scottish Executive and as first minister.

But he said it was now time for others to lead the parliament and take its work forward.

Mr McLeish received applause from the Labour benches at the end of his statement, and the parliament stood as he left the chamber.

No debate was allowed, but Presiding Officer Sir David Steel said: "On behalf of all of us I would like to thank you for your years of service to Scotland."

Mr McLeish's resignation will spark a 28-day contest to find his successor.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace will take over in the short term
Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace will fill the role on a caretaker basis until Labour choose a successor - the second time he has done so.

He stepped into the job after the death of Donald Dewar last year.

Education Minister Jack McConnell is already being tipped as the favourite to succeed Mr McLeish, whom he challenged for the first minister's post following the death of former leader Donald Dewar.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has paid tribute to the first minister, saying: "It is a great shame that Henry's career as first minister should end in these circumstances."

It was understood Mr Blair was made aware of the decision in a brief telephone call from Mr McLeish at 1030 GMT on Thursday.

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie said: "Henry McLeish has done the right thing in tendering his resignation. I commend him on that."

Scottish National Party Leader John Swinney told reporters: "This has obviously been a very difficult time and I feel personally very sad for Henry McLeish who showed dignity in his personal statement today.

"The conduct of the first minister of Scotland must, however, be beyond reproach."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"All the town's political classes are shocked"
BBC Scotland's Brian Taylor
"Driven from office by his own errors and consistent pressure"
Cathy Jamieson, Labour's deputy leader in Scotland
"The Labour MSP's are united in supporting the stance he has taken"
Catherine McLeod of the Glasgow Herald
"I think Mr McLeish alienated many ministers"
See also:

08 Nov 01 | Scotland
Constituency stunned by resignation
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
Q&A: Officegate
08 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
McLeish resignation: Audio/Video
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
First minister denies office fiddle
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
Parties' fury at McLeish admission
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
McLeish pays back expenses
04 Oct 01 | Scotland
Minister faces expenses scrutiny
08 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
Profile: Jack McConnell
Links to more McLeish resignation stories are at the foot of the page.


Links to more McLeish resignation stories