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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 17:40 GMT
McLeish prepares his defence
First Minister Henry McLeish
Mr McLeish has been preparing for the crucial debate
First Minister Henry McLeish has cancelled all his official engagements to work on a speech to save his political career.

He faces a full parliamentary debate on Thursday about his office allowances - with both opposition parties calling for him to quit.

It is expected he will be contrite over the admitted errors surrounding the sublet of his Glenrothes constituency office.

But he will also spell out the achievements of his first year in office.

Tory leader David McLetchie
David McLetchie: "No credit"
Mr McLeish took time out at lunchtime to visit the parliamentary canteen, chatting to backbenchers.

The Tories have allocated part of their parliamentary time to this issue on Thursday - and will call upon Mr McLeish to quit.

The Scottish National Party have now also tabled their own demand for the first minister's resignation.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs are ready to back Mr McLeish - meaning he will win the vote - but the first minister knows he needs to give a powerful performance to sustain that support over the longer term.

The Tories claim Mr McLeish has lacked candour and transparency and has lost the confidence of the people of Scotland.

Constituency office

They said Mr McLeish took too long to account for the income he received from sub letting part of his constituency office in Glenrothes, Fife, when he was a Westminster MP.

Leader of the Scottish Tories, David McLetchie, said that the information had to be dragged out of Mr McLeish.

He said: "That reflects no credit on Henry McLeish MP and it certainly reflects no credit on the first minister of Scotland."

But the first minister claims he has now answered the key questions.

On Tuesday, Mr McLeish made a belated attempt to put an end to the controversy over his office expenses, calling the affair "a muddle not a fiddle".

Office sign
The row centres around Mr McLeish's Fife office
He said he regretted the matter, but he insisted he would continue as first minister.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, he explained that his constituency office in Glenrothes had generated 36,000.

He said the money had been raised through five sub lets since he first became an MP in 1987, with the aim of improving the service he offered to his constituents.

The first minister stressed there was no personal gain from the money raised.

Mr McLeish has already paid back 9,000 to the House of Commons Fees Office, but he said he is prepared to pay back the full amount from his own pocket if required.

He already has the support of Labour MSPs and the Liberal Democrats have agreed to back him by rejecting the Conservatives' call for him to quit.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Political editor Brian Taylor reports
"What he has to face, of course, is the parliamentary test of a 90-minute debate"
See also:

06 Nov 01 | Scotland
First minister denies office fiddle
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
Q&A: Officegate
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
Parties' fury at McLeish admission
02 Nov 01 | Scotland
McLeish fails to quell expenses row
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
McLeish pays back expenses
04 Oct 01 | Scotland
Minister faces expenses scrutiny
13 Jun 01 | Scotland
McLeish standards inquiry dropped
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