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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 16:35 GMT
Labour gathering cut short
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell addressed MSPs
Scottish Labour has cut short its annual conference as the start of the war against Iraq comes closer.

The event in Dundee will now end on Saturday instead of Sunday and it is thought the prime minister will not be present, as originally scheduled.

Party leaders are still opposing demands for an emergency debate on Iraq. Instead, delegates will question the party chair, John Reid, in private on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, First Minister Jack McConnell has told MSPs how a war with Iraq could affect Scotland.

"It is important that we should be alert and vigilant, not panicking or giving the terrorists a victory by letting them disrupt our daily lives," said Mr McConnell.

We have robust and flexible plans in place with the local authorities and other partners to deal with any increased demand
Jack McConnell

"There remains no specific threat to Scotland at this time.

"However, it is important that we prepare against the possibility of terrorist attack by continued work on contingency planning."

He told the parliament that eight emergency planning groups were in place covering the country's eight police force areas.

"We are now better prepared to deal with chemical or biological attacks, through training, the provision of decontamination equipment and the stockpiling of vaccines by the NHS," he said.

"We have made significant progress, but our work continues to protect the public."

Mr McConnell said he had been "greatly assured" by the briefing he received from the Scottish Police Information Coordination Centre earlier in the day.

Flexible plans

"It is clear that this difficult situation is being tackled with considerable professionalism and sensitivity," he said.

Mr McConnell told MSPs that the health service in Scotland was also preparing to deal with any casualties from the Gulf.

"We have robust and flexible plans in place with the local authorities and other partners to deal with any increased demand.

We can only pray for the safe return of our armed forces and express our support to them and their families
John Swinney
SNP leader

"We have also made plans to cope with the call up of NHS staff," he said.

The first minister addressed Holyrood after the Scottish Executive's regular Wednesday meeting, at which the cabinet agreed unanimously to prepare Scotland for the consequences of war.

A special cabinet team has been created to supervise that effort, containing Mr McConnell, his deputy Jim Wallace, Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm and the Minister for Parliament, Patricia Ferguson, who will liaise with other political parties.

Mr McConnell also stressed that military action against Saddam Hussein was not an excuse for an attack on Muslim communities in Scotland.

He said he had heard of the "intolerance, intimidation and abuse" experienced by ethnic communities in the past.

Young people protest in Edinburgh
Young people protest in Edinburgh
"So we send a clear signal here today," said Mr McConnell.

"We will not accept such behaviour in Scotland, whether it takes the form of bullying in schools or racially motivated attacks on people, their property or their places of worship."

The first minister said that the Scottish Parliament also had to send its "wholehearted support" to the armed forces.

Scottish National Party leader John Swinney said his party was still against military action.

"We can only pray for the safe return of our armed forces and express our support to them and their families," he said.

'Dangerous regimes'

"We also pray for the avoidance of civilian casualties in this conflict."

Tory leader David McLetchie said: "There are times when armed conflict is necessary to deal with dangerous regimes such as Saddam Hussein and this is such a time."

Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan repeatedly spoke out against the war, and his actions led Presiding Officer Sir David Steel to threaten to eject him from the chamber.

Mr McConnell's statement came after Tony Blair received Commons support to send UK troops into battle in the Gulf.

Ayr MP Sandra Osborne resigned from the government over the failure to secure a second UN resolution on Iraq.

Council workers' protest

Hundreds of schoolchildren staged their own protest in Edinburgh in the hours before Mr McConnell made his statement.

West Dunbartonshire Council workers are to be given paid time off to protest against the war.

Management have agreed to give all non-essential staff up to an hour to attend local demonstrations in recognition of the "strong feelings on the legitimacy and morality" of conflict amongst the 6,000 employees.

Anti-war demonstrations are due to take place in Dumbarton and Clydebank on Thursday.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Political editor Brian Taylor
"The mood has changed"



SEE ALSO:
McConnell statement in full
19 Mar 03 |  Scotland
Police plan war crisis responses
19 Mar 03 |  Scotland
Children march against war
19 Mar 03 |  Scotland
Labour rebels plan Iraq debate
18 Mar 03 |  Scotland


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