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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 15:33 GMT
McLeish guilty of 'cover up' says aide
Henry McLeish arrives in the parliament
Mr MacMahon advised the former first minister
Former First Minister Henry McLeish lied to the media in order to cover up a ministerial row, according to his former aide.

Peter MacMahon said Mr McLeish had "committed the cardinal sin" when asked about an alleged argument with Enterprise Minister Wendy Alexander.

Writing in the Scotsman newspaper about his role as special adviser to the former first minister, Mr MacMahon said Ms Alexander was viewed as "exceptional" but with a fierce temper.

Mr MacMahon has been criticised by opposition politicians over his 'behind-the-scenes' account - though he stood by the move.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander: Allegedly unhappy with portfolio change

He claimed that the row broke out after Ms Alexander refused the first minister's request to take responsibility for Scotland's water industry following the resignation of Environment Minister Sam Galbraith.

Newspaper reports at the time claimed Ms Alexander had thrown a "tantrum".

Mr MacMahon said: "Alexander also made a number of further calls to McLeish himself to vent her fury.

"Executive colleagues who were close to the process at the time told me later that she claimed to have rung Gordon Brown at the Treasury and was citing his name in her case against the first minister."

Both the first minister and Ms Alexander were due to attend a photocall on the day the story broke and, according to Mr MacMahon, it was agreed that they should tell the media that the reports were "tittle-tattle".

However, when pressed by journalists, Mr McLeish denied the stories, saying they were "completely untrue".

Mr MacMahon has laid bare the rotten heart of Labour politics

SNP leader John Swinney

Mr MacMahon said that, in a telephone conversation afterwards, he told the first minister he had "committed the cardinal sin of lying".

"It was a lie. A lie I am sure he had not deliberately set out to tell, but a lie nonetheless." Mr MacMahon went on.

"McLeish probably thought it would help protect Alexander, but it only served to make the journalists more suspicious."

'A shambles'

Mr McLeish, 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.

Scottish National Party leader, John Swinney, said Mr MacMahon's revelations proved that Labour was "a shambles".

Peter MacMahon
Peter MacMahon claimed there was a 'cover up'

"He is betraying a trust by revealing the inner workings of Labour, but the picture he paints is a familiar one," Mr Swinney said.

"At a time when the Health Service is in perpetual crisis, education standards are falling and manufacturing is in recession, Labour ministers are revealed to be more interested in petty squabbling and temper tantrums.

"Instead of focusing on finding solutions to the problems in our hospitals and schools, Labour ministers are fighting internal feuds.

"Mr MacMahon has laid bare the rotten heart of Labour politics and come the next election, the public will be quick to punish politicians more interested in themselves than in getting on with their jobs."

The executive said on Friday that it would scrutinise Mr MacMahon's account to decide whether he had broken the civil service code of confidentiality.

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

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