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McLeish resignation Friday, 23 November, 2001, 22:10 GMT
Jack elected in a flash
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell pledged to improve public services
By BBC Scotland's Scottish Parliament reporter John Knox

Although it was a foregone conclusion, Jack McConnnell's election as first minister turned out to be a dramatic hustings meeting and a genuine clash of ideas.

The result, when it came, was straight forward: Denis Canavan (Independent) 3, Jack McConnell (Labour-Liberal Democrat) 70, David McLetchie (Conservative) 19, John Swinney (SNP) 34.

Only two MSPs were absent - the mother of the house, Winnie Ewing, and Henry McLeish, the man whose fall from office only two weeks ago in an expenses scandal caused the event in the first place.

David McLetchie
David McLetchie: "Tawdry coronation"

Jack McConnell told us: "For all my adult life, a majority of Scots wanted devolution but more than that, they wanted jobs, less crime, better health, quality education and transport services which work too. On all of these it is time to deliver."

He told us a little about himself. He's 41, a former maths teacher.

And with his family in the gallery, he spoke of his up-bringing on a sheep farm on the Island of Arran and his life now at his home in Wishaw.

The emphasis of his speech was on the efficient delivery of public services and the need to give every child the best possible start in life.

'Labour farce'

Although he did not mention his time as leader of Stirling Council or his role as education minister over the past year, both have helped build his reputation as a man who gets things done.

The Conservative leader David McLetchie condemned the whole afternoon's business as a "tawdry coronation" and a "Labour farce".

He said: "This cosy election is symptomatic of the culture of cronyism which exists in Scotland and which needs to be exposed and eradicated. "

The UK Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith cheered him from the gallery.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: Dab hand at the job

The SNP's John Swinney rounded on the Liberal Democrats for foisting an unelected leader of the Labour Party on the country, simply to win a deal on introducing proportional representation in local government at some point in the distant future.

He warned them they would need a long spoon to sup with Labour.

To jeers he said: "The Liberal Democrats have signed themselves up once again to talks about talks about talks on PR that were going absolutely nowhere."

But it was not all coalition bashing. Both opposition leaders included a little positive message of their own.

'This isn't goodbye'

Mr McLetchie waxed lyrical on an expanding role for the private sector and Mr Swinney on the bright dream of independence.

The fourth candidate, Dennis Canavan, once a Labour MP at Westminster, now the Independent MSPs for Falkirk West, was nominated by what Mr Canavan charmingly called the other two "Wise Men", the Socialist Tommy Sheridan and the Green's Robin Harper.

Mr Canavan called on ministers to take a cut in salary and to introduce fiscal autonomy for Scotland "to bring about a radical redistribution of wealth and improved investment in our essential services."

But once the politics were all over, MSPs of all parties filed past Mr McConnell to shake his hand.

He won't actually take over until Tuesday, following his investiture by the Queen in London on Monday.

John Swinney
John Swinney: "Au revoir"

Until then, the Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace remains Acting first minister.

He had his last outing in the role at a special Question Time on Thursday morning.

"This isn't goodbye," said Mr Swinney, "it's au revoir! - until Labour implodes again."

Mr Wallace has stood in three times as first minister in less than three years. "I may not have done the job for as long as anyone else, " he quipped, " but I have done it more often."

Earlier in the week, parliament had some routine business to attend to.

It approved in principle a bill to prevent men accused of rape from cross-examining their victims in court personally.

Media spotlight

Instead, they will have to use a lawyer in order to spare women the pain of reliving their ordeal and perhaps encouraging more to come forward and give evidence.

MSPs also approved a bill to postpone the local council elections for a year.

They will now be held in May 2003, on the same day at the Holyrood elections.

The executive says it will boost voter turnout and give councillors a widely welcomed four-year term.

But the SNP and the Conservatives voted against the change, saying it would sideline local democracy and consolidate Labour's "Stalinist" grip on power.

Finally, on Tuesday, we had a flying visit from the former MI5 agent David Shayler.

He came with colleagues from the National Union of Journalists to give evidence to the justice committee on the Freedom of Information Bill.

Unfortunately he was upstaged by a story from the Wishaw Press.

The NUJ's Paul Holleran alleged that the local MSP had insisted on vetting all political stories written by one of the paper's reporters.

The story was, of course, denied by the Labour Party.

But it made for another uncomfortable headline for the MSP involved, none other than Jack McConnell.

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See also:

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