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McLeish resignation Friday, 23 November, 2001, 15:33 GMT
McConnell sets out his stall
Jack McConnell
McConnell used the 'big G' word in his address
BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor assesses the new first minister's nomination speech to parliament.

What was that he said? Did I hear aright? "I have been given a great privilege today to lead this government?" GOVERNMENT? Surely some mistake.

Cast your mind back to the last election of a first minister. No, not Donald Dewar. The other one. Henry McLeish.

Yes, I know there have been rather a lot of first ministers - but it's not that hard to keep up. Do try to concentrate.

Henry McLeish hadn't long been in power when one of his colleagues, Tom McCabe, suggested mildly that the Scottish Executive might, from time to time, be known as, if it's okay with you, the...(whisper it) government.

Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor: "McConnell is determined to be different"
Not with a capital G, you understand. Definitely lower case.

The big G, as we all know, sits in London - and Big G don't like no small-time punk muscling in on his patch.

Big G gets twitchy - and, trust me, you don't want to be around when Big G gets twitchy.

And now here we are a year on - and another first minister, bold as you like, goes right to the G spot. With, I thought, a significant little pause before he uttered the word.

On reflection, I think this was a subtle indication of Jack McConnell's determination to be different. Different from his predecessors. Distinct from Westminster.

Most of the putative first minister's address was inevitably platitudinous. Such occasions are not designed for detailed policy. They are for, you know, the vision thing.


I paid particular attention to his offer 'to use all of the talent available and to cross party boundaries when we can work together for Scotland'

I was, however, struck by a number of points.

Firstly, in relation to absolutely nothing, I was delighted that Jack McConnell chose to quote from Lewis Grassic Gibbon in his section about focused anger.

Politicians in search of bottom tend to reach too readily for Swift or Pope or Milton.

It was good that our new first minister turned to the speak of the Mearns for his authority.

More, please. If we don't promote Scotland's immense cultural heritage, no-one else will. Let's hear it for Sir Walter Scott! (Sorry, personal obsession)

Secondly, I noted his determination "to have the good sense to say no - when the time is not right or the money is not there".

This was, let us be blunt, an internal reference to his immediate predecessor and a reflection of private cabinet concern that the executive had appeared too ready to placate every interest group.

Thirdly, I paid particular attention to his offer "to use all of the talent available and to cross party boundaries when we can work together for Scotland".

McConnell and Wallace
Common ground with Jim Wallace (left)
Yes, this was rhetoric. Yes, it was partly the pragmatic mantra of "what matters is what works" which featured in an earlier speech by Henry Mcleish.

However, it was seen as sufficiently important by others to elicit an immediate response from John Swinney.

The Scottish National Party leader, the main opposition figure in the party, said he would co-operate with this desire for cross-party consensus - if genuine and where appropriate.

The SNP still seems to me to be torn two ways. Partly, they want to excoriate the executive and all its works: by extension, to condemn the present devolved powers as inadequate, to argue for independence.

Partly, they want to praise the consequences of devolution, to argue that limited self-government can bring about substantial change and that, by extension, independent self-government could bring about much more.


Mr McConnell is setting out to be a can-do, pragmatic politician

John Swinney is treading an awkward line. He has to placate the Bravehearts with talk of freedom.

He is, authentically, a Nationalist. He believes in independence.

But equally, strategically and intellectually, he longs to build upon devolution.

He sees, daily, that devolution has clout. He sees, daily, that devolution is big league politics.

McConnell and Wallace
Common ground with Jim Wallace (left)
And so he yearns to respond to the latest offer from the new first minister: to be seen to work as a responsible opposition in the hope of becoming a responsible government.

So Mr McConnell is setting out to be a can-do, pragmatic politician.

He is setting out to shrug off his image as a product of the Labour machine and to project the notion of cross-party consensus and powerful parliamentary scrutiny.

He has already taken steps to strengthen the coalition: winning support from the Liberal Democrats with decidedly warm words about proportional representation in local government, restating the notion of a common office with his Lib Dem deputy and concluding that the key power of relations with the EU should be shared between himself and that deputy, Jim Wallace.

Centralised bureaucracy

Further, read Mr McConnell's views in an interview with the editor of The Scotsman newspaper.

Drawing upon his Arran background, he explains his frustration with centralised bureaucracy and his support for local initiative.

He expanded upon that in his parliamentary speech, arguing that leaders must be found all across Scotland.

This is classic communitarianism, the philosophy which supposedly inspired Tony Blair's approach on entering government.

If Jack McConnell is genuinely about to embark on this as his style of government, he will find himself very quickly in conflict with entrenched producer interests - many of them linked to his own party: trades unions; local authorities and partisan lobby groups of all kinds.

He means, above all, to resist Westminster domination of his executive and the Scottish Parliament.

He is a post-devolution politician. He has never been an MP. He resists categorisation as either a Blairite or a Brownie.

He means, in short, to be different. Practice, of course, will determine whether the principles are delivered.


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22 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
22 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
22 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
21 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
20 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
18 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
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