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Last Updated: Monday, 31 October 2005, 17:01 GMT
Lights out for McLetchie leadership
David McLetchie
Mr McLetchie achieved a name as a parliamentary performer
Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie has stepped down after leading the party for seven years.

The 52-year-old Edinburgh lawyer was little known outside the party when he took up the position commentators dubbed the "job from hell".

He beat Phil Gallie in the Tory leadership contest in 1998 and quickly set about attacking opposition parties.

But a row over his taxi expenses ultimately led to his political downfall and his decision to resign.

The Tories had lost all their Scottish seats at the 1997 general election, did not have any representation in the European Parliament and had no control over any councils in Scotland.

Their revival in Scotland during his tenure was not spectacular, but Mr McLetchie managed to lead his embattled troops back to a position of some respectability.

Devolution support

Ironically for Mr McLetchie, a former opponent of devolution, it was the Scottish Parliament elections that sparked the upturn in fortunes and led to his finest moment as leader - the Ayr by-election victory.

Despite being a close supporter of the Conservative former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth - a strong anti-devolutionist - Mr McLetchie embraced the new-found autonomy that the Scottish Parliament provided.

In the spirit of devolution, the Scottish Tories have supported some policies in Scotland, such as free personal care for the elderly, that have been opposed south of the border.

Mr McLetchie felt most at ease in the parliament's debating chamber where his turn of phrase produced the necessary uncomfortable dig at executive ministers and belly laughs from MSPs.

David McLetchie
David McLetchie led the Tories for seven years

Mr McLetchie dismissed the Liberal Democrats as "Henry's little helpers" and called the Scottish National Party "a pathetic excuse for an opposition party".

His sparring with former first minister Henry McLeish produced the fiercest rows.

Mr McLeish was clearly riled by Mr McLetchie just days before the first minister resigned. Through gritted teeth in a tension-filled parliament chamber he told the Tory leader that he had entered his "blackest hour" and told him to stop "grubbing around the gutter".

Mr McLetchie is married to Sheila, a theatre nurse at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary and has a 21-year-old son James, by his first marriage.

The experience of nursing his first wife, Barbara, when she was dying of cancer, led him to advocate the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

In February 2005, Mr McLetchie defended his position following a row over a possible conflict of interest.

'Disgraceful slur'

He insisted that his legal work did not influence the political causes he supported. Mr McLetchie said he did not think he had broken the rules by backing a motion which criticised the expansion of Edinburgh Airport.

Mr McLetchie said he would not give up his legal work and described the allegations as "a disgraceful slur on my character".

But he resigned from his post as a partner with Tods Murray "to avoid any misconceptions in the future". In June, details of Mr McLetchie's Holyrood expenses were published in response to freedom of information requests, but with some items blacked out.

The figures revealed Mr McLetchie spent 11,500 on taxis during the first five years of the parliament - more than any other MSP.

Press backlash

He said his claims were made in good faith and that he would refer to his own records before discussing his taxi journeys with parliament officials.

As pressure mounted on the Tory leader, he hit out at his treatment by some journalists.

Mr McLetchie said he was answerable to voters and would not be intimidated by what he described as "the pariahs of the press".

Newspaper reports
Taxi expenses proved Mr McLetchie's political downfall

He said: "I am answerable to my constituents in Edinburgh Pentlands and to the voters of Scotland as a whole and not to you. I will be judged by them and not by you.

"I shall lead the Scottish Conservatives into the 2007 elections and will campaign vigorously on the important issues that really matter to the people of Scotland."

However, on 31 October Mr McLetchie announced he had resigned as Tory leader with "a heavy heart".

He reiterated his commitment to fully reimburse any expenses which he claimed in error.

The former leader added: "I have been committed to the Conservative Party in Scotland for the whole of my adult life and what it stands for is far more important than me personally."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
History repeats itself as a leader resigns



SEE ALSO:
McLetchie resigns as Tory leader
31 Oct 05 |  Scotland
CV: David McLetchie
02 Apr 03 |  Scotland


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