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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
McConnell's reign continues
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell was nominated as first minister

Jack McConnell was crowned king, again, writes BBC Scotland political correspondent John Knox.

We are in the mock gothic surroundings of the Old Highland Tolbooth Church at the head of the Royal Mile.

MSPs pressed their voting buttons just once and out of the clerks' computers came the result which surprised no one: Dennis Canavan 2, Robin Harper 6, Margo MacDonald 2, Jack McConnell 67, David McLetchie 18, Tommy Sheridan 6, John Swinney 26.

All 60 Labour MSPs plus the 17 Liberal Democrats voted for Mr McConnell.

It follows a coalition agreement drawn up by the two parties in the fortnight since the election and signed with great flourish at a ceremony earlier on Thursday at St Andrew's House.

"The work will go on, " said Mr McConnell in his nomination speech.

Jack McConnell and Jim Wallace
Jack McConnell and Jim Wallace sign the deal

"But the work will be quicker, smarter and sharper."

He said the first term of the Scottish Parliament had seen devolution fully established. "In the second term, devolution must deliver."

The coalition agreement is an amalgam of the two party manifestos.

Labour said it included all but 2 of its 142 commitments - directly elected health boards and congestion charging.

It includes both parties' promises to increase the number of teachers, nurses and police.

It includes the Liberal Democrats' plan for free eye and dental checks, the scrapping of national testing for 5-14 year olds at school and, crucially, PR for local government elections.

Labour has had to abandon its manifesto pledge to keep the single member council ward.

THE COALITION DEAL
Power to intervene in failing schools and hospitals
Proportional representation for local government
Scrapping of health trusts
Free eye and dental checks
Class sizes cut to 20 for S1 and S2 Maths and English
Scrapping school tests for five to 14-year-olds
Review of Skye Bridge tolls

And in return, it has got its way on tough new measures to curb youth crime, including, in extreme cases, the imprisonment of parents.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader John Swinney said he would support the executive's programme when it was in Scotland's interest.

"We will not oppose the government just because we are in opposition.

"We will ensure that the best argument and not the strongest party machine, prevails."

The Conservative's David McLetchie was in coruscating form.

He said: "The programme for government was a collection of strategies, reviews, consultations and studies on issues as diverse as walking, good diet, and sexual health...all subjects we thought Cro-Magnon man had mastered over a million years ago. "

Margo MacDonald
Margo MacDonald stood with Dennis Canavan

"So what we have is a programme not for devolution or for revolution but the re-invention of evolution."

The mock contest for First Minister was made more interesting by Robin Harper and Tommy Sheridan firing off their green and red rockets.

And the rainbow was completed by independents Margo MacDonald and Dennis Canavan. They even offered to job share if they were elected.

But, as Dennis Canavan put it: "I stand as much chance of winning, as I did last night in the Dumyat Hill Race."

This jolly performance was taking place in the Edinburgh Festival's headquarters, the Old Highland Tolbooth Church or "the Hub" for short.

It is across the street from the normal chamber, which has been reclaimed temporarily by the Church of Scotland for its general assembly.

General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
The parliament was displaced by the Kirk

The tall-spired Tolbooth church was designed in the 1840s by the architect Augustus Welby Pugin.

Coincidentally, he also had a hand in designing the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

Among its attractions are a licensed restaurant, a magnificent gothic hall upstairs - richly painted in blue and red and yellow - and a staircase carpet with the opening bars of the Marriage of Figaro embroidered into it.

Speaking of marriages, the MSPs tables are to be cleared from the hall this weekend for a wedding reception.

Journalists joked it was celebrating the marriage of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

They noted that the signing ceremony in St Andrew's House took place in a parlour that looked very like a registrar's office.

Perhaps we were put in mind of civil weddings by the only other political news of the week at Holyrood.

Gay couple - generic
The Greens called for a civil partnership bill

The Green MSP Patrick Harvie put forward plans for a civil partnership bill.

This would give co-habiting couples - either heterosexual or same-sex - similar rights to married couples.

The Tories immediately accused him of hi-jacking the parliament's agenda in the opening few days of the new session.

It was a "distraction" similar to the silly debate over Section 28 during the first few months of devolution.

It wasn't even an environmental policy.

The Greens were unapologetic.

They pointed out the plan was in their manifesto and it was being launched along with another bill on energy conservation.

Finally, to finish with the family theme, Jack McConnell allowed us a rare insight into his private life during his acceptance speech.

Becoming emotional, and stopping to take a drink of water to clear his throat, he told us proudly that his grandmother, Barbara, was in the public gallery.

He also told us his nephew, Michael aged 14, was in the gallery having recovered from being in a coma for 10 days following a road accident.

It was a reminder that family life goes on, even for a first minister.

On Monday, citizen Jack McConnell goes to Windsor Castle to be given his royal warrant by the Queen.

On Tuesday, he will stand in front of Scotland's High Court judges to be sworn into office.

He will announce his cabinet soon afterwards and the ministerial appointments will be approved by parliament on Wednesday - which means MSPs will not be free to go to a certain football match in Seville.




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