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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Leader with a survival instinct
Andrew Black
Political reporter
BBC Scotland news website

As Scotland's longest-serving first minister to date, Jack McConnell has been one of the country's most high profile figures.
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell became first minister on his second attempt

He firmly took charge of Scotland following the unexpected death of Donald Dewar and the resignation of Henry McLeish after an expenses row - and that was only at the start of a highly eventful tenure.

Mr McConnell was born in Irvine, Ayrshire, in 1960 and raised on a sheep farm on the picturesque Isle of Arran, off Scotland's west coast.

After attending the local high school in Lamlash, he left island life to attend the University of Stirling, during which time his interest in politics took off.

However, at first his career was teaching, specialising in maths.

Politically he had a brief flirtation with Nationalism in his formative years but in 1984, at the age of 24, the now Labour man was elected to Stirling District Council where he served until 1992.

As general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party between then and 1998, he earned a reputation as a shrewd operator, building up a power base among party members, MPs and councillors.

In 1997 he co-ordinated Labour's Yes Yes devolution referendum campaign and, after his election as MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw, he was appointed finance minister in Donald Dewar's coalition Scottish Executive in 1999.

He won, by just two votes, the selection fight to stand as an MSP after knocking on every door of every Labour Party member in the constituency.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell developed a taste for politics in his student days

In parliament, his confident performances earned him the nickname Jumping Jack Flash, but his robust style often brought him into confrontation with colleagues, including a spat with then health minister Susan Deacon.

His first brush with controversy came when a newspaper alleged an undercover journalist had evidence that executives at PR firm Beattie Media boasted of privileged access to Mr McConnell, who had previously worked for the organisation.

A parliamentary probe later cleared him of any wrongdoing in the so-called "lobbygate" affair.

When Mr Dewar died suddenly in 2000, the ambitious minister saw his chance to grab the reins of power and was only narrowly defeated by Henry McLeish - managing to take the contest a lot closer than anyone thought possible.

Mr McConnell then took up the "poisoned chalice" of the education portfolio, tackling a crisis at the Scottish Qualifications Authority head-on.

When Mr McLeish quit as first minister, Mr McConnell was immediately installed as the front-runner - but there was an obstacle which he needed to deal with.

In an audacious act, and with his wife Bridget sitting beside him, he admitted at a media conference to having had an affair.

Jack McConnell and his wife Bridget
Mr McConnell married Bridget in 1990, adopting her two children.

That paid off and the move spiked the guns of any members of the media who may have been delving into his background.

He married his wife in 1990, adopting her two children. He also said it was important for his relationship with them that he did not father his own.

As first minister, tackling crime, education, an inquiry into the Scottish Parliament building costs and an international development project in Malawi were among his headline decisions.

However, his most famous one has been presiding over the introduction of a Scotland-wide public smoking ban.

Mr McConnell, who served as first minister for more than five years, was at first sceptical of such a move, which had been put forward by the SNP.

Following a visit to Dublin to learn about Ireland's smoking ban, his road to Damascus-style turnaround saw him proclaim that Scotland could go down that route.

After the Nationalists' historic 2007 election victory Mr McConnell - uncharacteristically for the leader of a party which had just lost power - stayed on in the role, saying he was proud to lead Holyrood's largest ever opposition group.

However, the Jack McConnell who returned to Holyrood was, at least publicly, a more sombre and serious one than before and, under pressure to go following the result, he eventually announced his decision to step down several months later.

Any leading politician, though, has their ups and downs - and there are a few downs that, as first minister, he would rather forget.

Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell was previously minister for finance and education

Mr McConnell gave a personal message of support to former Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus in contrast to a belated congratulations to Ayrshire violinist Nicola Benedetti when she became BBC Young Musician of the Year.

There were also those pictures of him in an ill-fitting pin-striped black kilt at the New York Tartan Day celebrations.

More serious was his decision in 2004 to attend a golf club dinner rather than D-Day commemorative events in Normandy. He later reversed the decision and admitted he had got it wrong.

Mr McConnell was attacked by the SNP after he told a group of high school pupils that it was okay to get drunk "once in a while".

The Scottish Executive insisted he was speaking about adults and his comments were "a recognition that people will get drunk".

He vigorously defended a foreign holiday with the broadcaster Kirsty Wark.

Overall though, one of this politician's traits has been his strong survival instinct, above all else, which transformed an ambitious former maths teacher into a leader.




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