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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 17:43 GMT
Ayr by-election set for March

Debating chamber The resignation is the first from the parliament

The by-election in the Scottish Parliament's most marginal seat is likely to be held in March.

Labour's Ian Welsh, who won the Ayr constituency in May by just 25 votes, is stepping down to spend more time with his family.

The parliament's Presiding Officer Sir David Steel will set the date.

After meeting party business managers on Tuesday, he indicated he wanted to wait until a new electoral register is published in mid-February.

Under the rules, the contest must be held within three months, meaning it has to take place before 21 March.

Mr Welsh said he had reached the decision after "considerable heart-searching and extended family debate".

In May, the Conservatives' Phil Gallie polled 14,238 votes, but went on to become a list MSP in the South of Scotland region.

Dilemma for Tory

BBC Scotland political correspondent Elizabeth Quigley says Mr Gallie faces the dilemma of whether to resign as a list MSP and contest the by-election.

In doing so, however, he would run the risk of losing the constituency by-election and his seat in parliament.

Ian Welsh Ian Welsh: More time for family
Mr Welsh is a former professional footballer with Kilmarnock FC who went on to become chief executive of the club. He had been granted a public service career break from the job to work as an MSP.

He said the pressures of travelling daily to Edinburgh had proved more of a problem than originally expected.

"Although the family-friendly nature of the Scottish Parliament is very welcome, it is still putting burdens on my family," he said.

'Constant criticism' of parliament

Mr Welsh, whose wife is a partner in a law firm, has two sons, one of whom has learning difficulties. "After so many years of active politics, I need to devote more time to my family," he added.

"Despite the constant criticism in the media, I think the Scottish Parliament is settling down remarkably well to the task of managing and scrutinising Scottish resources and institutions," stated Mr Welsh.

Phil Gallie Phil Gallie: "Facing dilemma"
"The executive has set about delivering distinctive and radical legislation and I wholeheartedly support the serious attention it has brought to the major issues facing Scottish families.

"I am very proud of the work I have undertaken during my time in active politics and it has been a privilege to have served the people of South Ayrshire and Ayr constituency for so long.

"I hope they will understand and appreciate my reasons for wishing to make my civic contribution more locally within Ayrshire."

Before being elected to the parliament, Mr Welsh represented Prestwick St Nicholas on Kyle and Carrick District Council for 15 years and was its representative on the South Ayrshire Council. He was the first leader of the new local authority.

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