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Scottish Cabinet Friday, 30 November, 2001, 20:16 GMT
Jack suffers first defeat
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell faced his first defeat by MSPs
By BBC Scotland's Scottish Parliament reporter John Knox

The new First Minister Jack McConnell did not quite have it all his own way this week.

He may have been powerful enough to get rid of five of his cabinet and replace them with his own "Jacobites" but as soon as parliament heard that his favoured candidate for deputy presiding officer was the folk singing MSP Cathy Peattie, they voted for somebody else.

The new deputy presiding officer, Murray Tosh, won the secret ballot easily, 68 - 45. He's an independent minded Tory, a former teacher and convener of the procedures committee.

So we now have three wise men on the bench trying to keep order, Sir David Steel (Lib Dem), George Reid (SNP) and Mr Tosh.

Cathie Peattie
Cathie Peattie lost out in the vote
He replaces Patricia Ferguson who, to everyone's surprise, became Jack McConnell's campaign manager in the election-that-never-was and is now rewarded with the post of minister for parliament.

On Wednesday, MSPs had to give their approval to the new McConnell team. He told the chamber: "These appointments have been made on merit.

"They are experienced people with talent and ability who will serve this parliament well. They are not a collection of individuals, they are a real team."

But that did not stop the opposition crying "cronyism". John Swinney, the SNP leader, said: " Mr McConnell said there would be no night of the long knives yet he has dumped five of his senior colleagues.

"He said he would put an end to factionalism yet he has created an inferno of factionalism within the Labour group."

'The dispossessed'

The Conservative leader David McLetchie said it was not so much a government of all the talents as a government of all the toadies.

Speaking of the figures who have left the front bench - Jackie Baillie, Angus Mackay, Susan Deacon - he described them as "the disappeared, the dispossessed and the disgruntled".

And of those who have joined the cabinet - Andy Kerr as finance minister, Cathy Jamieson at education and Malcolm Chisholm at health - Mr McLetchie said they been "unremittingly hostile to reform, hostile to partnership with the independent sector and thoroughly wedded to higher taxes and trade union vested interests".

Murray Tosh
Murray Tosh is the new deputy presiding officer
Mr McConnell had another chance to defend his new administration at first minister's question time on Thursday.

In a confident performance, he said: "People are fed up to the back teeth with all the squabbling that goes on among politicians about personalities.

"What they want to see is parliament and those politicians focus on education, health, transport, crime and jobs. And when we do that, we will earn their respect." On Wednesday, Parliament did just that. MSPs approved in principle the Community Care Bill. This is the bill that will introduce free personal care for the elderly from April next year.

Its less well known provisions will provide for free nursing care and for joint working between health boards and local authorities.

Local elections

During SNP time on Thursday morning, the issue of proportional representation (PR) for local government elections was debated.

The SNP's Tricia Marwick said it was the only way to end the Labour fiefdoms. But the Conservatives said a better way was to end cronyism.

The local government minister Peter Peacock pointed out that Labour had already introduced PR for the Scottish Parliament and it was in the famous 'talks about talks' with the Liberal Democrats about PR for local elections.

Dennis Canavan
Dennis Canavan wanted the pensions issue settled
All he would say was that he was keen to see the link between the individual councillor and his ward maintained.

Also in SNP time, the issue of the pensions surplus for former Scottish Transport Group (STG) workers was debated.

The transport minister Lewis Macdonald announced that an extra 18m had been obtained from the Treasury for the 14,000 bus and ferry staff involved, taking the total payout to 118m or over 7,000 each.

But the independent MSP for Falkirk West, Dennis Canavan, said the figure should be more like 170m pounds and he castigated the executive and the trustees of the pension fund for the years of delay in actually making the payments.

'Jack the Rat'

After all, the STG was privatised nearly 10 years ago and the former transport minister Sarah Boyack had hoped to make the payments by last Christmas.

In the committee rooms, we had Euan Robson presenting his Marriage (Scotland) Bill, which will allow registrars to carry out civil weddings in all sorts of exciting places, not just the council offices.

And we had another Tuesday afternoon wading through the amendments to the anti-fox hunting bill. As usual there was a Countryside demonstration outside, this time accompanied by the model of a giant rat on the back of a trailer.

"Jack the Rat" said the billboard. I wonder who that referred to?

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See also:

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