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McLeish resignation Friday, 9 November, 2001, 20:44 GMT
Holyrood's credibility problem
Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish has bowed out of frontline politics
By BBC Scotland's parliamentary reporter John Knox

Henry McLeish looked like a broken man when he came to the chamber on Thursday to tell us why he had resigned as first minister.

"Let me acknowledge again today my mistakes in the matter of constituency office sublets and my mistakes in the way I handled the matter," he said.

It was a sad and simple statement which left MSPs embarrassed and puzzled.

There was restrained applause, then everyone stood up as Mr McLeish went forward to shake the hand of the Presiding Officer Sir David Steel.

Sir David Steel
Sir David Steel thanked Mr McLeish
Sir David managed a brief word of thanks before the first minister left the chamber to begin a new life as a backbench MSP.

One of his supporters, Maureen Macmillan, MSP for the Highlands, was in tears.

She told waiting cameramen: "I think it was murder by the media. I really don't think Henry deserved this. He was a good solid man who did his best for Scotland."

His decision to go was announced to a stunned chamber by the Parliament Minister Tom McCabe just as a no confidence debate was about to begin.

Mr McLeish was all set to win the vote, having been given unanimous backing by Labour MSPs and the Liberal Democrats two days before.

He was expected to mount a vigorous defence.

'Grey area'

The charges against him - hotly pursued by the Conservatives - concern his red-brick constituency office in Glenrothes in Fife.

He has admitted sub-letting a room in the office to five tenants over the 14 years he was an MP at Westminster and not declaring the total income of 36,000.

The matter was reported to the Fees Office of the House of Commons which is in charge of paying out allowances to MPs. It reached an agreement with Mr McLeish that he repay 9,000 and he has done so.

Westminster expenses undone Mr McLeish
A decision is still awaited on the rest but Mr McLeish says he is willing to repay the lot out of his own pocket.

House of Commons allowances are a particularly grey area, so too is the relationship between political parties and their funders and this affair has cast an unusual spotlight on both.

Since the matter first came under that spotlight, in the Mail on Sunday last April, however, the McLeish camp has been slow to release the truth and it trickled out in typical scandal-style droplets over the months since.

It's thought the killer blow for Mr McLeish was the revelation on Wednesday night that there was a sixth tenant, this after he had assured Labour MSPs that the full story was out.

The issue thus became one of credibility. And Labour leaders in London were not exactly reassured with a poor performance by Mr McLeish on the BBC's Question Time last week.

Real achievements

For Mr McLeish the past three weeks have been traumatic. He has seen his career ruined and his much treasured devolution project humiliated.

"I have made no personal gain from any of this," he told Parliament.

"If I have let the people of Scotland down in this matter, I hope I have served them well in many others.

"This parliament must now turn its energies once more to its real and pressing business - the concerns of the people of Scotland. I want us to be allowed to do that with a minimum of distractions. That is why I am resigning."

Elderly care
Mr McLeish championed free elderly care
Henry McLeish goes with some considerable achievements to his credit...the scrapping of student fees, a big pay increase for the teachers and free personal care for the elderly.

There is now a fear that these, and other real achievements of the Scottish Parliament, will be overshadowed by the series of sleaze stories which have accompanied them - MSPs expenses, Lobbygate, the row over official advisers, the escalating cost of the new Holyrood building and now "Officegate".

It is now the Scottish Parliament which must rebuild its credibility. Much will depend on who Labour elect as their new leader.

The party has less than a month to hold elections before the parliament must have a new first minister.

The front runner is the present Education Minister Jack McConnell and his main challenger will probably be the Enterprise Minister Wendy Alexander.

Meanwhile, the Deputy First Minister, Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace will run the administration, as he did after death of the founding father of devolution Donald Dewar, just over a year ago.

See also:

03 Nov 01 | Scotland
02 Nov 01 | Scotland
02 Nov 01 | Scotland
31 Oct 01 | Scotland
26 Oct 01 | Scotland
27 Jun 01 | Scotland
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