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McLeish resignation Friday, 16 November, 2001, 19:03 GMT
Dapper Jack dominates Holyrood life
Jack and Bridget McConnell
Jack McConnell and his wife Bridget faced the media
By BBC Scotland's Scottish Parliament reporter John Knox

He did not say a word in parliament, but the dapper figure of Scotland's first minister-in-waiting, Jack McConnell, has dominated the lives of Holyrood's citizens all week.

MSPs in all parties - and particularly Labour - were in a state of some bewilderment as events unfolded in the contest to succeed Henry McLeish.

The week began with Enterprise Minister Wendy Alexander and Mr McConnell squaring up for a battle of ideas.

Although the education minister was always expected to take over from the fallen Mr McLeish, at least the party was going to have a healthy debate about the future.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander decided not to challenge Mr McConnell
But then Ms Alexander suddenly withdrew from the field, saying she was not ready for the responsibility of the position.

So on Monday, everyone was wondering who the challenger would be.

The left winger John McAllion put his name forward. So did Deputy Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm.

Then on Tuesday morning, Mr McConnell called an astonishing news conference in Edinburgh's Holyrood Hotel.

He owned up to an affair seven years ago, saying he wanted to clear the air of allegations that he was something of a "Jack the Lad".

'Open secret'

His wife Bridget sat uneasily by his side. She said the issue had been resolved inside the family and that she was backing his campaign to be the new Scottish Labour leader.

Under a barrage of questions, Mr McConnell said: "I want to make it very clear. I had one affair.

"I regret that very much. It's been an open secret in Scotland for seven years.

"And, as of today, I hope that I will be able to go on, with the support of my colleagues, and be an effective first minister of Scotland."

The confession did him no harm because by Tuesday afternoon the vast majority of MSPs were supporting him.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander decided not to challenge Mr McConnell
Mr Chisholm had pulled out of the race early in the day, citing a lack of support for his campaign, while Mr McAllion could not raise the seven signatures needed to lodge a nomination.

So when nominations closed at 1700 GMT, there was only one name - that of Jack McConnell.

On Wednesday the newspapers raked over the first minister-in-waiting's private life with some glee, but they turned up nothing new.

On Thursday, Mr McConnell sat smiling in his seat in the parliament's chamber as deputy first minister and Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace gave a sparkling performance at question time.

Scottish National Party leader John Swinney tried to embarrass him on the issue of proportional representation for local government.

Partnership agreement

He said PR would help end Labour's "municipal states" in central Scotland and rid the country of Labour's culture of "secrecy and cronyism " - yet the Liberal Democrats had made little progress in persuading the coalition to do anything about it.

Mr Wallace told him PR was in the partnership agreement with Labour and that did not change with the change in leadership.

"Unlike the SNP we are not a one issue party," he declared, to loud Labour applause. He went on to list the coalition achievements on teachers pay, student grants and free personal care for the elderly.

Conservative leader David McLetchie said Mr Wallace was standing in so well as first minister - the third time he had done so - that he ought to keep the job full time.

But the interregnum will end next Thursday afternoon when Mr McConnell is expected to be formally elected as the new first minister.

Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish resigned last week
While all this leadership drama was going on, of course, the parliament tried to keep its mind on normal business.

On Thursday it passed a so-called Sewel Motion allowing the home secretary's anti-terrorism bill to pass into Scots law.

It includes the controversial power of detention without trial for terrorist suspects.

The SNP objected to that and to the whole notion that such a major piece of legislation should be left to Westminster.

Deputy Justice Minster Iain Gray did announce, however, that Scotland would have its own distinctive version of the new provisions against incitement to religious hatred.

A bill will be published in about three months time.

Water merger

Elsewhere, the rural development committee continued its study of the amendments to the anti-foxhunting bill.

A demonstration of more than 100 pro-hunting campaigners from Dumfriesshire and the Borders blew their horns outside.

The environment committee heard confirmation from minister Ross Finnie that 1,000 jobs are to go in the water industry after the merger of the three water authorities.

Finally, the finance committee was given an update on the progress of the new Holyrood building.

Full allowances

The latest estimate of the cost has risen to 241m.

And in a separate report, the running costs of the parliament over the past year were put at 45m.

Interestingly, MSPs did not take up their full staff and office allowances.

Out of a budget of 8m, only 6.2m was claimed - so perhaps the lessons of the McLeish affair have already been learned.


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10 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
09 Nov 01 | Scotland
11 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
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