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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 11:34 GMT
McLeish aide article sparks storm
Henry McLeish arrives in the parliament
Henry McLeish's resignation shocked the parliament
Henry McLeish's former aide has sparked a political row by writing an insider's account of the controversy which forced his boss to resign as Scotland's first minister.

Critics described spin-doctor Peter MacMahon's decision to speak out in a national newspaper as "tawdry".

But Mr MacMahon has defended his move - arguing that he also tells the "positive side" of the McLeish story.

Peter MacMahon
Peter MacMahon has defended his article
The Labour MSP for Central Fife resigned as first minister in November 2001 over the Officegate row, which centred on the sub let of part of his office over his 14 years as an MP.

He said at the time that he took "full personal responsibility" for the mistakes which had been made.

Writing in The Scotsman newspaper, Mr MacMahon argues that Mr McLeish was not quick enough in closing down the row over his Westminster office allowances.

He describes the hours of agonised discussion before Mr McLeish supplied details of five sub lets from his Glenrothes office - then the agony when a sixth sub let emerged.

Mr MacMahon recalls that he put his head in his hands and groaned: "He's finished".

'Interesting story'

The former aide - who was responsible for advising on the presentation of Scottish Executive policies and the first minister himself - said that he felt justified in publishing his insider's account.

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme he said that Mr McLeish underestimated the level of media scrutiny involved in the job.

He denied that he had breached the former first minister's trust by writing the article and said he had told Mr McLeish of his intentions.

Mr McLeish's office
The row centred around Mr McLeish's Fife office
"The relationship between an MSP and his constituency is almost like a marriage. And it is very difficult for a close colleague like I was to become involved in that," Mr MacMahon said.

"I don't think that Henry McLeish realised the level of scrutiny there would be of all aspects of his public life."

But Scottish National Party leader John Swinney said the episode again exposed Labour's shabby internal politics.

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie described the article as a "tawdry betrayal".

And the Scottish Executive has warned that it will scrutinise the story to see whether Mr MacMahon has broken the civil service code of confidentiality.

Officials said that as a former special adviser, Mr MacMahon was bound by civil service rules.

Peter MacMahon may have broken a rule but we will wait to see what is published before considering any action

Scottish Executive spokesman
These state that permission must be sought if a person intends to publish memoirs containing confidential information relating to activities within government.

An executive spokesman said: "Peter MacMahon as a former special advisor is bound by this, but he has not sought permission."

Possible legal remedies could include seeking an interdict to prevent further publication, or raising an action for damages.

"Peter MacMahon may have broken a rule but we will wait to see what is published before considering any action," the spokesman added.

Sensitive issues

"It is necessary to keep a sense of proportion, and we do not propose to speculate about the next steps."

Mr MacMahon confirmed that he did not seek clearance for the article.

"I am very conscious of the responsibilities on official secrets that were imposed on me and I would not do anything that I thought would jeopardise national security or reveal sensitive issues.

"Everyone can read it and make their mind up," he said.

Mr MacMahon said that he was willing to accept his responsibility over the handling of Officegate, but added, "I don't think I am letting him (Mr McLeish) down".

'Ridiculous saga'

He also revealed that he spoke to Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's director of communications and strategy, before Mr McLeish announced his resignation.

Mr Campbell had been having dinner with President George W Bush at the time. He was said to have been unhappy with the interruption.

Mr MacMahon said he was advised by Mr Campbell to contact the first minister and advise him about the latest sub let revelations.

But Mr Swinney, the SNP leader said: "The whole McLeish affair was an indictment on the way in which the Labour Party runs Scotland.

"And for Peter MacMahon so soon after the event to be rushing into print, to set out the whole ridiculous saga again, to me breaches his responsibilities as a civil servant.

Peter MacMahon
"I don't think that Henry McLeish realised the level of scrutiny there would be"
Peter MacMahon
"I think it is an interesting story"
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