Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Saturday, 28 June 2008 12:50 UK

The ups and downs of Alexander's reign

By Andrew Black
Political reporter
BBC Scotland news website

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander broke the rules on declaring donations

Wendy Alexander was always regarded as one of Labour's brightest talents.

Yet, after 10 months as Scottish party leader and an on-going row over donations to her leadership campaign, it was all over for her.

She got the top job in September, after the elections in May which saw the SNP take control in Scotland.

Rebuilding the party after such a defeat after eight years in power was a tough enough challenge.

But the MSP for Paisley North was also dogged by an illegal donation to her successful Scottish Labour leadership campaign fund, and continued speculation about how long she would last in the job.

Ms Alexander had been tipped as a future Scottish Labour leader almost since the beginning of devolution itself.

She considered going for the top job when Henry McLeish quit following the "muddle not a fiddle" row over expenses for his Westminster constituency office.

Ms Alexander surprised many when she decided not to stand, the crucial difference the second time around being that she became leader of Holyrood's largest opposition party - not first minister of Scotland.

'Misguided' efforts

The former management consultant first came to the fore when, as a Holyrood minister, she became responsible for abolishing controversial laws banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

This was the long-running saga over the repeal of Section 28, which dogged the early days of devolution.

Ms Alexander, regarded as a protege of the late first minister Donald Dewar and a close ally of Gordon Brown, was an obvious target for the high-profile Keep the Clause campaign.

She focussed on the man behind the group, multi-millionaire and SNP donor Brian Souter, saying there were more important priorities than the transport tycoon's "misguided" efforts, before Labour spin doctors forced her to take a back seat.

Ms Alexander advised Mr Dewar during his time as secretary of state for Scotland and was part of the team which drafted the Scotland Act, paving the way for devolution.

The people of Scotland told us loud and clear they wanted change - they didn't whisper - they shouted it, so change we must
Wendy Alexander

In the first parliament, she became communities minister and, after Mr McLeish's elevation to first minister, moved into his former position on enterprise.

She tackled the issue of housing stock transfer - strongly opposed among Glasgow housing groups - and waded into a row involving the senior Australian banker Frank Cicutto.

After making comments - which he said had been misinterpreted - that Scotland's economy had been in permanent recession for 200 years, Ms Alexander made a speech at a STUC conference in which she referred to "pesky Aussie put-downs".

"Rather than saying Scotland doesn't give a four X, I thought I would start by setting the record straight," she told delegates.

After the departure of Mr McLeish, Jack McConnell became first minister and Ms Alexander had transport added to her responsibilities, becoming known as "minister for everything".

She later quit the cabinet after becoming, it is thought, increasingly discontented with her workload and relations with colleagues.

Ms Alexander received a thank-you letter from former ministerial colleagues in recognition of her "substantial contribution", but less complimentary about the situation was her MP brother Douglas, now the UK international development secretary.

Hungry caterpillar

He claimed she had suffered "outrageous" treatment at the hands of the media as a minister and that the power she held was resented.

Moving to the backbenches, however, did not equate to a drop in profile.

Ms Alexander criticised the Scottish Executive's management of its social justice policy and its efficiency savings drive and eventually became convener of the Scottish Parliament's powerful finance committee.

A row also erupted over a leaked letter she wrote to former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, in which she said perhaps the last time the Labour movement in Scotland had made "a real intellectual contribution" to the party nationally was in 1906.

After the election, and with Labour out of power, the mother of twins wasted little time in holding the new SNP administration to account following her appointment as her party's finance spokeswoman.

Her primary target was Finance Secretary John Swinney - a man with whom she probably sympathised, given his large area of ministerial responsibility.

She exemplified this during an eyebrow-raising speech in the Scottish Parliament when she compared him to the hungry caterpillar - a well known children's character - eating his way through announcements on post offices, bridge tolls, welfare and fairness, transport and energy policy.

"That night he had a stomach ache," she told MSPs.

Several months after the historic 2007 Holyrood election, Mr McConnell decided to step down as leader.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander served as a minister in Donald Dewar's administration

Ms Alexander's road to becoming leader became less and less rocky by the day as, one by one, possible contenders announced their decisions not to stand, while a challenge from the left of the party failed to attract enough nominations.

Despite her bid securing the backing of the vast majority of Scottish Labour MSPs, the party's regime change forced it to take a long, hard look at itself following the defeat to the Nationalists.

Ms Alexander, who in the end emerged as the sole candidate, stated: "The people of Scotland told us loud and clear they wanted change.

"They didn't whisper - they shouted it. So change we must".

Just a few months into the job, the leadership was rocked by an episode which it, and the party, could have done without.

Significant steps

Ms Alexander's campaign team accepted an illegal 950 donation from Jersey-based businessman Paul Green, which broke the rules because he was not a UK voter.

She soldiered on, refusing to resign under intense pressure from the SNP, insisting she was confident of being cleared by the Electoral Commission watchdog.

The resignation of Peter Hain as UK Work and Pensions Secretary to "clear his name," as the police investigated more than 100,000 of undeclared donations to his deputy Labour leadership campaign, added to the pressure.

Ms Alexander was eventually cleared by the Electoral Commission, concluding she took significant steps to comply with the law - but did not take "all reasonable steps". The SNP claimed the finding was a whitewash.

Wendy Alexander
Ms Alexander used her time as leader to attack "SNP broken promises"

Then there was the "bring it on" episode, where Ms Alexander called on the SNP to bring forward their planned independence referendum.

It was a bold move, but led to suggestions of a rift between her and the prime minister, who did not overtly back her.

In a separate issue, the Crown Office said she would not be prosecuted over failing to register donations on the MSPs' register of interests.

Ms Alexander said she was initially told she did not need to register the donations, after seeking advice from the clerk to the Scottish Parliament's standards committee.

But the issue came back to bite her when the committee said she did break the rules and recommended she be banned from parliament for one day.

However with parliament in summer recess she would have to wait until September for all MSPs to vote on the recommendation.

Rather than having the issue hanging over her - and the party - Ms Alexander announced her resignation as leader, branding the cross-party committee's decision "partisan".

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