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Political editor Brian Taylor
"It was a firm performance from Henry McLeish"
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Chief political correspondent John Morrison
"These wounds will take some time to heal"
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Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 19:33 GMT
We are a government - McLeish
Scottish Executive building
Ministers have expressed surprise at the name row
First Minister Henry McLeish has hit back over the Scottish Executive name row, telling MSPs: "We are a government."

Opposition parties attempted to step up the pressure on Mr McLeish on Thursday following the controversy which surrounded suggestions that the executive could change its title.

But the first minister defended his use of the word "government" and denied allegations of a split within the party's ranks over the issue.

Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish: "We are the government"
Downing Street has voiced support for Mr McLeish, despite dismissing suggestions on Wednesday that the executive should be rebranded the Scottish Government.

Speaking during First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament, Mr McLeish said the executive had always governed over devolved matters - and would continue to do so.

He told Scottish National Party leader John Swinney: "Let's not get silly. We have no plans to change the name of the Scottish Executive.

"We don't need to - we are a government."

The issue was first raised by Parliament Minister Tom McCabe on Tuesday when he hinted that the executive could change its name to clear up any confusion people have about the government.

'Storm in a teacup'

However, the following day Downing Street and the Scottish Secretary, Dr John Reid, said there was no question of a new title.

A spokesman for the scottish secretary described the affair as a "storm in a teacup", and poured scorn on suggestions of a name change.

Scottish ministers denied that they had been slapped down by Downing Street, and said that the whole row had been overblown.

On Thursday, Mr McLeish told MSPs that the administration's first document outlining its goals had been called "programme for government" and the update, due later this month, would have the same name.

Why doesn't the first minister just stop pruning himself and get on with his job

David McLetchie, Scottish Tory leader
"In devolved matters, we are governing Scotland. This has always been so," he said.

Mr Swinney said Mr McCabe had been "hung out to dry" and challenged Mr McLeish over media accounts of the alleged Downing Street "slapdown".

He said this showed a "contemptuous" attitude towards "this government" by unnamed Labour ministers "with no real jobs to do at Westminster".

But Mr McLeish replied by quoting media reports that former SNP leader Alex Salmond felt more comfortable with Westminster than in Holyrood.

Mr Swinney demanded to know if Mr McLeish was governing Scotland, or if London was governing Mr McLeish.

But the first minister replied: "We are taking decisions on devolved matters in Scotland for the Scottish people.

"On three occasions I have said Scottish government, government, and we are governing for the whole of Scotland.

"It's crystal clear - if they want to take advantage of a storm in a tea cup, that's up to the nationalists."

John Swinney
John Swinney: "Slapdown" challenge
Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie also attempted to step up the pressure on Mr McLeish.

He asked: "Why doesn't the first minister just stop pruning himself and get on with his job and concentrate on the things that really matter to the people of Scotland?"

Mr McLeish responded by suggesting that Mr McLetchie had a poor relationship with Conservative Leader William Hague.

But Mr McLetchie said: "From the events of the last 48 hours it would seem that I speak to Mr Hague a lot more often than he speaks to the Prime Minister, and the relationship is a lot more cordial."

There was a final twist after the debate when Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie submitted a motion welcoming the increasing use of the words government and Scottish Government in ordinary discussion.

He said he was confident of attracting the number of signatures required for the motion to be discussed in the parliament.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Scotland
No 10 enters 'Scots Government' row
09 Jan 01 | Scotland
Ministers play the name game
31 Dec 00 | Scotland
McLeish in devolution pledge
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