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McLeish resignation Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 18:44 GMT
Scotland's 'House of Cards'
Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor
By BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor.

As I write, the hunting horns resound down Edinburgh's Royal Mile. I have just attended a packed news conference at which a senior politician confessed to a past affair.

His wife spoke of her hurt - but relief that the facts were now out in the open. The politician is the prime contender to become Scotland's next political leader. This place is becoming surreal.

First, those noisy horns. Either they are yet another demonstration against MSPs' determination to ban foxhunting.

Or the Festival has started early. Or they've found a stray fox in the Canongate.

Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish: "Muddle, not a fiddle"
On balance, I think it's a demo - but I'm in a mood to doubt anything.

Less than one week ago, Henry McLeish was the first minister of Scotland. He believed he had closed down the controversy about his past Westminster office allowances. It was a "muddle, not a fiddle".

Then it emerged that his office had forgotten to specify a further sublet of the premises in Glenrothes.

Mr McLeish resigned, delivered an emotive statement to the Scottish Parliament and left as his Labour colleagues complained of "murder by the media".

Most observed that he had brought about his own downfall by failing to spell out all the facts sufficiently early.

Sole challenger

Labour called for nominations to replace him. The Education Minister Jack McConnell - who only narrowly missed out on the top job last year - indicated plainly that he would stand.

The Enterprise Minister Wendy Alexander also hinted strongly that she was in the running.

Malcolm Chisholm, the deputy health minister, said he'd be the voice of the moderate Left, a unifier.


Strategically, Mr McConnell was seeking to clear the air, deliberately trying to end the climate of speculation and innuendo, which, he said, had enveloped him

Brian Taylor
There was talk of other contenders. Then Wendy Alexander pulled out, saying she didn't want to endure the stress, which had made life so tough for her late mentor, Donald Dewar.

Malcolm Chisholm - who had expected to be the smiling conscience in the middle - found himself the sole challenger to the favourite. He pulled out, lacking sufficient support.

Which brings us to that packed news conference in a plush hotel next to the site where Scotland's new parliament building is under construction.

Jack McConnell entered, understandably grim-faced. His wife Bridget walked at his side, similarly solemn.

Cameras flashed, written statements were handed round. Massed journalists, wedged behind a rank of TV crews, craned forward to see.

Personal privacy

Mr McConnell said he had had an affair seven years ago. It had been an open secret - and it was time to bring it out into the open.

He had let everybody down, including his wife, by his behaviour at the time. But he loved his family very much and appealed for personal privacy in future.

Bridget McConnell talked of the past betrayal of trust, the hurt and confusion. But she said the crisis within their marriage had long been resolved - and she firmly supported her husband in his bid to become the first minister.

Jack and Bridget McConnell
Jack and Bridget McConnell
Strategically, Mr McConnell was seeking to clear the air, deliberately trying to end the climate of speculation and innuendo, which, he said, had enveloped him.

Equally, he was aware that Henry McLeish had been brought down by the steady drizzle of information, as allegation followed allegation.

Each time the former first minister tried to close the controversy down, more details would emerge. Mr McConnell was determined to avoid being cornered.

But - just as with Mr McLeish - Mr McConnell and his team must simply wait to discover whether Scotland's highly competitive press pack will accept the assurances as they stand, or trawl for further damaging detail.

The education minister said - under close questioning - that he had had one affair and there should be no further obstacle to his becoming first minister.

Ian Richardson
Ian Richardson in 'House of Cards'
So what will happen next? Jack McConnell is unopposed within Labour - and on course to be Scotland's next first minister.

But, given recent history, I now expect that opposition MSPs will borrow Northern Ireland practice, designate themselves temporarily as Labour, nominate a rival contender and then withdraw, smirking.

The political scene in Scotland is fast becoming like an episode from "House of Cards".

You remember the BBC drama with the hugely wily chief whip and endless Machiavellian machinations.

Is it all oscillating between tragedy, crisis and farce? You might say that. I couldn't possibly comment.


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13 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
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