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Tuesday, August 4, 1998 Published at 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK

UK Politics

Scottish Office minister rejects 'crony' charges

Gus Macdonald: I feel I have served a 40-year apprenticeship

The new Scottish Office minister, the former broadcaster Gus Macdonald, has rejected charges that he is a crony of the prime minister or the Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar.

Gus Macdonald: "It was a surprise to me to be called a 'Tony crony'"
But Opposition parties are concerned that Mr Macdonald, who takes up the industry portfolio, is neither an MP or a peer and as such he is unaccountable to parliament until he is elevated to the House of Lords sometime in the autumn.

Labour backbenchers are also annoyed that Mr Macdonald has been appointed to the Scottish Office over MPs without even being a party member.

Mr Macdonald told BBC Radio Scotland the charges of cronyism were just the "frothier August story for a slow news day".

Mr Macdonald is standing down as chairman of the Scottish Media Group to take up his new post, for which he will not be paid.

"I am delighted it was welcomed by the Scottish TUC and the CBI in Scotland. I am there to try and bring business and enterprise to the agenda for the Scottish parliament that is elected next year, and for me that is the priority."

[ image: Dr Liam Fox:
Dr Liam Fox: "Contempt for parliament"
The Conservatives have roundly condemned Mr Macdonald's appointment claiming that Mr Macdonald is just another of "Tony's cronies".

Tory constitutional spokesman Dr Liam Fox says the appointment is undemocratic.

He said: "It does show the contempt the prime minister treats parliament and through parliament, the electorate.

Dr Liam Fox: "It's another supine executive Blair crony"
"It's another supine executive Blair crony put in position over the heads of his own party and the electorate and none of use who are elected MPs are supposed to ask any questions about it."

Labour MP saddened

Labour backbencher Tam Dalyell said: "It's hardly surprising that more and more people are accusing the Labour party of cronyism."

He said he was "saddened" at the appointment's implication that none of Labour's younger MPs in Scotland was considered up to the job.

[ image: Tam Dalyell: No surprise at
Tam Dalyell: No surprise at "cronyism" jibes
Mr Dalyell, who said he had spoken to several Labour MPs who shared his view, said: "If (Scottish Secretary) Donald Dewar feels he needs Gus Macdonald's special experience, why not ask him to be an adviser?

"To appoint him, unelected, as a minister places him out with the system of accountability to Parliament that is crucial to our democracy."

'A special remit'

Donald Dewar defends his decision
But Mr Dewar told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he had chosen Mr Macdonald because there was no one else who was up to the job.

He said: "Are you saying to me that we should never bring new talent and new experience into government, that we should be frightened to turn round to say 'look - this is a special remit, a special job, let's look for someone who is sympathetic, who has drive, who has ability and a record that we cannot find in parliament'."

The Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said the appointment was "a throwback to an age of patronage" at a time when Scotland was supposed to be moving to a new democratic era.

For the Liberal Democrats Michael Moore MP said: "The fact that we have now got a new minister appointed to the Lords says a lot about what Mr Dewar thinks about his fellow ministers in the Scottish Office - and indeed what talent there is supposed to be on the Labour backbenches."

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