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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 14:34 GMT
Sacking demand over 'war votes'
Hugh Kerr
Hugh Kerr: "Labour will be punished at the polls"
First Minister, Jack McConnell, has called for the sacking of a Scottish Socialists' press aide who is reported to have said his party could gain votes from the war in Iraq.

Mr McConnell said the comments by Hugh Kerr were "disgraceful" and an "insult to every single family in Scotland who has serving soldiers in the Gulf at the moment".

Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, said the remarks were "crass insensitivity" and both urged caution in the run-up to the elections on 1 May.

The row broke out on the final day of the Scottish Parliament's first four-year term.

Mr Kerr said that his comments, in what he thought was an off-the-record briefing, were on the likely impact of the war on the Scottish election.

Four-year Statistics
62 Bills passed
35,000 written answers
207 fact-finding visits by MSPs
48 committee visits outside Edinburgh
118 inquiries by committees
611 petitions dealt with by parliament
5,000 witnesses before committees
25 million hits on website
200,000 people watched from public gallery

Mr McConnell said "It would be absolutely shocking if any political party in Scotland was to try and abuse or enjoy the conflict in the Gulf because it might help gain a profile in the election campaign and they might believe they might gain some more votes."

Mr Wallace said: "I certainly count comments like 'there's votes in it for us' which came from Hugh Kerr as falling far the other side of what is acceptable.

"It's crass insensitivity and a quite outrageous comment."

Mr Kerr said he thought he had been talking off-the-record to The Scotsman in a call instigated by the newspaper.

"I was giving an honest answer to what the political impact would be on the Scottish Parliament election," he said.

Coalition government

"It is the case that we believe the war is wrong, it is immoral, it is illegal, and that Blair, McConnell and Bush are committing war crimes.

"But the impact of the Scottish election will be to punish Labour and that is what I was saying."

Party leader Tommy Sheridan later said he had "no intention" of sacking Mr Kerr, whom he described as "an excellent press officer".

Mr Sheridan added: "This attack suggests that we are at the beginning of the election campaign and Labour are becoming scared at the scale of the loss of support for them and the rise of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)."

Jack McConnell:
Jack McConnell: "Absolutely shocking"

The first minister and his deputy were speaking at a news conference to mark the end of their coalition government.

"There will be differences between the choice that both coalition partners offer voters on 1 May but there will always be a unity of belief between us," Mr McConnell added.

The Lib Dem leader indicated that any coalition talks could take longer this time round than in 1999.

He also suggested that he and his party might find it easier to walk away from coalition talks if they were not happy with the terms on offer.

The parliament was in full session on Thursday for the last time before voters go to the polls in 34 days time.

At 1100 GMT, 16 MSPs staged a 90-second silence in memory of all those who have died so far in the Iraq war.

The MSPs stood while a debate on old age pensioners continued around them.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Political Editor Brian Taylor reports
"War changes everything and it might affect the election."



SEE ALSO:
Children's tsar bill passed
26 Mar 03 |  Scotland
Outdoor access code unveiled
26 Mar 03 |  Scotland
Bid to increase voter turnout
26 Mar 03 |  Scotland


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