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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Peer's political career unravels
By Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland political editor

Problems seem to pursue Mike Watson.

On the backbenches at Holyrood, he provoked the noisiest protests the parliament has seen with his bill to abolish fox hunting in Scotland.

Mike Watson
Mike Watson had been viewed as a politically reliable character

In the Scottish Cabinet, he attracted controversy when he appeared to give succour to campaigners in his own constituency who were attempting to overturn executive policy on hospitals in Glasgow.

But that's politics. This is rather different.

Mike Watson has now pleaded guilty to a charge of wilful fire-raising at a posh Edinburgh hotel.

The incident occurred in the early hours during the Politician of the Year gala dinner at Prestonfield Hotel last November.

From now on, for the Labour Party, Mike Watson's name will forever spell trouble. But it wasn't always like that.

Ironically, he initially came to prominence for precisely the opposite reason - as a politically safe and reliable character.

In 1989, Mike Watson was singled out as a sound and steady union official to fight the tough Westminster by-election of Glasgow Central.

In the aftermath of Jim Sillars' triumph in Glasgow Govan, Labour feared a resurgent SNP. The Nationalists had chosen Alex Neil - now a prominent MSP - to fight Central.

Labour needed a safe pair of hands. There must be no repetition of Govan. They turned to Mike Watson.

With wicked, wicked irony, the executive has recently been running a vivid poster campaign warning of the dangers and personal ignominy associated with fire-raising

He fought a dogged, determined - some would say deliberately tedious - campaign. And he won.

Born in Cambuslang in 1949, he was educated at Dundee High School and gained a degree in economics and industrial relations from Heriot Watt University.

He became an adult education lecturer and later a full-time union official with the white collar organisation which is now MSF.

On his election to Central, he seemed set for a steady - if perhaps unspectacular - career in the Commons. But boundary changes altered all that.

The political map of Glasgow was torn up. Even sitting MPs had to face new nomination contests.


In 1995, Mike Watson found himself facing one of the toughest possible against Councillor Mohammed Sarwar, a doughty campaigner and a powerful representative of Glasgow's Asian community.

There were rumours of pressure and arm-twisting on all sides. The first count saw Mike Watson win by a single vote.

Mr Sarwar refused to accept the result and demanded a re-run - which he duly won.

Mike Watson took his own party to court - contesting that day a youthful Labour official, one Jack McConnell, who was later to become first minister. The result stood.

Mike Watson - BBC archive
The Labour peer has had tussles within his own party

Perhaps ashamed at the treatment handed out to the hero of Central, Labour made Mike Watson a peer. He became Lord Watson of Invergowrie.

But he wasn't content to languish in the Lords. Peers can stand for the Scottish Parliament and Lord Watson took the chance.

He won Glasgow Cathcart in 1999, holding it again in 2003 despite that controversy over local hospital provision.

He had supported Jack McConnell for the top job of First Minister - and duly entered Mr McConnell's first Cabinet as minister for culture, sport and tourism.

Dropped in 2003, he returned to dedicated backbench work. All now at an end.

With wicked, wicked irony, the executive has recently been running a vivid poster campaign warning of the dangers and personal ignominy associated with fire-raising.

Perhaps they should have started closer to home.

Peer pleads guilty to fire charge
01 Sep 05 |  Scotland
MSP denies fire-raising charges
23 Aug 05 |  Scotland
MSP's fireraising trial date set
25 Jul 05 |  Scotland

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