Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
'Lobbygate' sets the parliament alight
Those who predicted that the new Scottish Parliament would fail to 'set the heather alight' might now be persuaded to change their minds if the events of the last week were anything to go by.
The Scottish political scene was dominated by one story, neatly dubbed 'Lobbygate' or more loosely the 'cash-for-access' row, which raised questions about the actions of ministers and indeed the whole parliament.
The Observer newspaper started the whole thing off with its secret recordings of Kevin Reid, the lobbyist son of the Scottish Secretary, and a colleague from the lobbying arm of Beattie Media allegedly telling a journalist posing as a businessman they had influence with ministers.
While Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar rushed to the defence of his ministers - a line which he has held throughout the week, Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid launched a bitter attack on the tactics of The Observer and said his son had done nothing wrong. Beattie Media, meanwhile, apologised to the ministers involved for any embarrassment caused.
The reactions of the two political leaders were in stark contrast and re-focused attention on the reported political power struggle between the two arms of government in Scotland.
'Donald and I'
However, by the end of the week and after further reports of rows which were fiercely denied by Dr Reid in particular, attention was falling back on the ministers allegedly involved.
Indeed, some experts suspected Dr Reid was going the 'extra mile' to rebuff reports of tension, telling activists at a fringe meeting that while there were bound to be difficulties associated with devolution "Donald and I" were determined to sort them out. Was this a reference to the 'King and I' and was Dr Reid prepared to play Deborah Kerr to Donald Dewar's Yul Brynner?
On Wednesday, the drama moved to the environs of the parliament proper, but not before Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister who was a former employee of Beattie Media and about whom the most damaging allegations were made, denied any wrongdoing.
However, the committee's handling of the affair on Wednesday morning raised serious questions about its effectiveness, never mind the newspaper claims.
There were clear divisions and indeed tensions, particularly between convener Mike Rumbles and Scottish National Party member Tricia Marwick.
And amid confusion over how to proceed, Mr Rumbles blocked open discussion of the allegations, stating that parliamentary convention barred claims against individual MSPs being heard in open session.
The committee agreed to reconvene on Tuesday, in private session, to set out the terms of reference for an inquiry.
The issue has since prompted legal action by The Scotsman newspaper, which is demanding public hearings but it is now uncertain whether or not that action will go ahead amid reports that the committee will support public sessions.
Shortly after Mr Dewar finished his speech, Beattie Media announced it had shut the lobbying arm of its operation and Kevin Reid's job was under review. It was a political spin doctor's dream and as if the parliament's proceedings that day and the announcement by Beattie were part of some well-staged media event - the sort of thing which has made boss Gordon Beattie's company so successful.
By the weekend the matter had failed to die down and even a display of unity by Dr Reid and Mr Dewar as they signed the concordats setting out the 'ground rules' for relations between London and Edinburgh provided little distraction.
Indeed, while Dr Reid was once again providing an energetic portrayal of harmonious relations, Mr Dewar seemed uncharacteristically ill-at-ease in the media glare on Friday.