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banner Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 17:30 GMT
PM's tribute to McLeish
Protest sign
One protester called for Mr McLeish's resignation
Prime Minister Tony Blair has paid tribute to Henry McLeish following his resignation as Scotland's first minister.

A statement from Mr Blair described his decision to quit, which was announced on Thursday, as a "great shame".

But Mr McLeish's opponents in the Scottish Parliament said the first minister had made the right decision.

The tragedy is that this has come at a time when he was really growing into the job and becoming highly respected as first minister

Prime Minister Tony Blair
His intention to resign was revealed to MSPs on Thursday as they prepared to debate Tory and Scottish National Party calls for his resignation.

Mr McLeish was under pressure over the Officegate row, which centres on expenses he claimed for his Westminster office in Glenrothes over a period of 14 years.

This week he admitted receiving 36,000 from sub letting office space without registering the income with the Commons authorities - although he said he was willing to repay the money if necessary.

He had already agreed to repay 9,000 to the Commons fees office.

Mr Blair paid tribute to Mr McLeish in a statement read by his official spokesman.

'Heart-wrenching decision'

"It is a great shame that Henry's career as first minister should end in these circumstances," he said.

"He can be very proud of the contribution he made to public life, particularly of course in Scotland, but also as a Westminster MP and as a very good minister.

"The tragedy is that this has come at a time when he was really growing into the job and becoming highly respected as first minister."

SNP MSP Margaret Ewing said it must have been a "very heart-wrenching decision" for Mr McLeish to resign.

"But at the same time I think it is a very important that we recognise this was a victory for the parliament," she said.

Henry McLeish leaves the parliament
Henry McLeish leaves the parliament
"We have to ensure that those in charge are seen to be effectively in charge."

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie said: "Henry McLeish has done the right thing in tendering his resignation. I commend him on that.

"A line has been drawn and we must move on and focus in this parliament on issues of primary concern to the people of Scotland."

His deputy, MSP Annabel Goldie, said: "This was a job that had to be done.

"That does not mean that you incur any sense of personal satisfaction from doing it."

Difficult weeks

SNP leader John Swinney said it had been a very difficult few weeks for Mr McLeish.

"I feel personally very sad for Henry McLeish, who showed dignity in his personal statement today," he said.

"The conduct of the first minister of Scotland must, however, be beyond reproach.

"The way in which this affair has been handled has unfortunately fallen short of the standards the people of Scotland expect of their first minister."

Donald Gorrie
Donald Gorrie: "Draw a line"
He added that Labour's credibility had been "seriously damaged" by the episode.

Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie said that Mr McLeish would have survived the no confidence motion.

However, he said the question would then have been how the first minister was damaged in the eyes of Labour and Liberal Democrat backbenchers.

"I think it may be helpful to the parliament to draw a line under this sad affair.

"I think it is helpful in this way but it is sad for him personally as he has made a good contribution in his way to Scottish politics."

Labour MSP Cathy Jamieson said Mr McLeish's decision showed he was "a man of integrity".

"He has looked at his position and decided for the better good of the Labour Party and for the Scottish Parliament in general," she said.

Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell expressed her "deep regret" over the resignation and described Mr McLeish as "a great servant to Scotland".

'Man of sincerity'

She said: "He took over in difficult circumstances and even in a short year he has helped make devolution the success it is.

"Henry is a friend, he is a man of sincerity and compassion who has devoted his life to the service of the community."

However, Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan MSP said the resignation had been "inevitable".

"He had to fall on his sword. He had misled parliament and by misleading the parliament, he had misled the Scottish people.

"He had no alternative but to offer his resignation," he said.

Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie
"I have no idea what prompted his resignation"
See also:

08 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
McLeish's exit: Timetable of events
08 Nov 01 | Scotland
Henry McLeish - profile
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
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
McLeish pays back expenses
04 Oct 01 | Scotland
Minister faces expenses scrutiny
08 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
Profile: Jack McConnell
Links to more McLeish resignation stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more McLeish resignation stories