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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
McConnell accuses political rivals
Motherwell and Wishaw constituency accounts
The Labour Party is investigating the accounts
First Minister Jack McConnell has accused his political opponents of trying to "smear him without foundation".

The claim was made in letters exchanged between Mr McConnell and the party's general secretary Lesley Quinn.

The letters were published in an effort to draw a line under the controversy surrounding his constituency funds.

Earlier it emerged Labour councillors run the bank which holds the constituency accounts.

Christina Marshall
Christina Marshall was Mr McConnell's PA

The husband of the former treasurer of the Motherwell and Wishaw Labour Party is among the directors.

The Scottish National Party is calling for the Scottish Parliament to be recalled to allow Mr McConnell to make a personal statement about the row.

The Tories said there must now be full disclosure of all the facts.

The Motherwell and Wishaw Labour Party accounts are already being investigated by senior Labour officials amid claims that a member may have misused funds.

'No financial benefit'

Senior officials are still seeking access to bank statements as part of their inquiry.

The accounts in question are held with the North Lanarkshire Municipal Bank.

All seven directors of the bank are councillors - one from the SNP and six from Labour.

In his letter to Labour's general secretary Lesley Quinn, Mr McConnell sets out his version of events.

He wrote: "As our political opponents, and others may wish to continue to try and smear me without foundation, I will releases this letter to the press.

"I want the fact to be public, I am sure your investigation will be thorough."

'Speedy response'

Responding to the letter, the general secretary said she would "look into the details" provided by the first minister and give "a considered but speedy response".

Tory leader David McLetchie said: "This underlines the need for a full disclosure of all the relevant facts by the first minister and the Labour Party."

However, Labour remains adamant that the first minister has done nothing wrong.

The party launched an inquiry into the constituency accounts when it emerged that a local activist may have used party funds without authorisation.

It was suggested that there may be an 11,000 black hole in the constituency accounts.

Parliament Minister Patricia Ferguson said it was "very likely" police officers would be called in if serious discrepancies were found.

On Friday, Mr McConnell wrote to the Scottish Parliament's presiding officer Sir David Steel stating that he "received no financial benefit" from the fund.

The first minister's story is unravelling day by day

Fiona Hyslop
SNP parliament spokeswoman

However, it emerged on Monday that Mr McConnell received cash from a party development fund set up by the Iron and Steel Confederation to help fund his failed Labour leadership bid in 2000.

And some money from the fund had also been used to cover petrol expenses and set up a website.

It was disclosed by Ms Ferguson that Mr McConnell's personal assistant Christina Marshall was given the role of signatory to the fund as his representative.

According to the SNP, this contradicts the account given by Mr McConnell to parliament when he insisted that he had no input into the running of the accounts.

And the SNP called for Mr McConnell to give a clear and detailed statement to parliament.

'Direct input'

SNP parliament spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop said that Mr McConnell, acting as leader of the Scottish Labour Party, should order a fully independent audit of the accounts.

Ms Ferguson insisted that the first minister had not misled parliament "in any way, shape or form".

She said the fund was there to promote the work of the Labour Party and that was what it was used for.

The total value of the aid Mr McConnell received was about 200.

Brian Taylor reports
"Jack McConnell is confident the inquiry will end all the uncertainty"
Political analyst Malcolm Dickson
"There are many of these skeltons lying about in cupboards"
SNP leader John Swinney
"It is essential we get a clear statement from the first minister"
See also:

11 Oct 02 | Scotland
11 Oct 02 | Scotland
10 Oct 02 | Scotland
09 Oct 02 | Scotland
31 Oct 99 | Scotland
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