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Last Updated: Monday, 24 March 2008, 17:32 GMT
Row as McLeish backs SNP debate
Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish said he welcomed an "open debate"
A Scottish minister has defended former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish after he gave his backing to the government's National Conversation.

Henry McLeish said he welcomed the "open debate" on Scotland's constitutional future, which include plans for a referendum on independence.

But Labour colleagues have suggested Mr McLeish should join the SNP.

Parliamentary business manager Bruce Crawford said Labour was displaying its constitutional "narrow-mindedness".

Next phase

Mr McLeish, who was Scotland's first minister from October 2000 to November 2001, said: "I welcome that the process of open debate is under way with the National Conversation, and look forward to the next phase developing with the prevailing mood of Scotland."

A constitutional commission backed by Labour, the Lib Dems and Tories to look at the devolution set-up after 10 years is also currently under way and being driven by Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander.

Former Labour education minister Sam Galbraith told The Times newspaper it would be in the interests of Labour and Mr McLeish if he joined the SNP.

Mr Crawford said: "Labour are showing themselves at their worst.

"Suggesting Henry McLeish should leave Labour because he is willing to listen to all the options for Scotland shows the constitutional narrow-mindedness of Scottish Labour," he said.

"This is in stark contrast to the Scottish Government's National Conversation gathering all views from across Scotland."

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