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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Wallace and McLeish stand united
Donald Dewar
Donald Dewar was back at work on Thursday
The two men who will be in charge of Scotland during the three-month absence of First Minister Donald Dewar have pledged the country's coalition will remain strong.

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace and unofficial second in command within Scottish Labour Henry McLeish will assume new responsibilities when Mr Dewar goes into hospital for surgery

It was confirmed on Wednesday evening that Mr Wallace will take charge of the "government side" of the first minister's job and Mr McLeish will take charge of the "politics side".
Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: "Partnership approach"

Mr Wallace said he would be the "deputy first minister who would be deputising".

Commenting on his new relationship with Mr McLeish, Mr Wallace said: "Henry will not be writing the script. I think people might have got the wrong impression on how we run government - we work in partnership.

"Yes we do discuss issues among ourselves but we try to make collective decisions that we all agree with."

Mr Dewar returned to work on Thursday following exploratory heart tests which revealed the need for a "major, but routine" operation.

Meetings and paperwork

The 62-year-old arrived at his office on Thursday for morning meetings and to attend to paperwork.

"He is absolutely fine," a spokeswoman said after his return.

"He is in very good humour, and quite happy to be back at his desk. He is relaxed and looking forward to his day."

Mr Dewar was not taking part in a debate in the parliament on the first stage of the Ethical Standards in Public Life Bill which would lead to the abolition of Section 28, the law which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

He is due back in the chamber on Thursday afternoon for his regular 20-minute verbal sparring with SNP leader Alex Salmond at first minister's questions.

Three-hour operation

Mr Dewar will be admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary within the next few weeks to have his leaking aortic valve replaced during a three-hour operation.

The MP for Glasgow Anniesland will then need to spend about 10 days in hospital recovering from the surgery before convalescing at home for between eight and 12 weeks.
Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish: Taking charge of the "politics"

Senior members within Labour are insisting the partnership will continue to deliver and that Labour will hold the whip hand while Mr Dewar is away.

But it is understood that some within Labour are uneasy that Lib Dem Mr Wallace will lead the Scottish government for a number of months.

They point to the fact he is from a party which polled fourth in last May's Scottish election and came in fifth place behind the Scottish Socialist Party in the Ayr and Hamilton South by-elections.

A diplomatic Mr McLeish said: "I think Jim acknowledges that in terms of the executive and in terms of the partnership he will act up in Donald's absence.

Busy schedule

"That in turn means that with the politics, I and the rest if my colleagues in the cabinet will ensure that the work of the politics will go as normal."

Since the launch of the new parliament last year, Mr Dewar has been at the centre of several high-profile controversies including the role of his personal advisers, the cost of the new parliament building, and the planned repeal of Section 28.

Between the cardiac irregularity being picked up in March and Tuesday's further tests, Mr Dewar's schedule had included a trip to Japan and a key speech to the Scottish TUC in Edinburgh last week.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | G-I
Heart valve disease
08 Apr 99 | The Scottish Parliament
CV: Donald Dewar
31 Jan 00 | Scotland
Dewar leadership under fire
25 Apr 00 | Scotland
Testing time for Dewar
25 Apr 00 | Scotland
Dewar undergoes heart tests
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