Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Saturday, 13 September 2008 14:28 UK

New chapter for Scottish Labour

Iain Gray

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC news website

On paper, Iain Gray was not the frontrunner to become Scottish Labour leader.

Quiet and unassuming, not hailing from the party's traditional west of Scotland heartland and only just back at the Scottish Parliament after losing his seat to a Tory - all these factors could have worked against him.

He exited parliament in 2003, after four years as a leading part of the Labour-Lib Dem coalition government.

But, on his return to parliament in 2007 as MSP for East Lothian, Mr Gray quickly settled back into his old groove of delivering confident performances in the chamber, notably his sharp criticism of the SNP's first budget plan.

Following Wendy Alexander's resignation, he moved decisively, becoming the first MSP to officially announce his successful bid for the Scottish Labour leadership.

The former teacher, who grew up in Edinburgh and Inverness, mounted a slick campaign as he travelled Scotland, asking party members, parliamentarians and unions to put their faith in him.

Thought to have been the preferred choice of Gordon Brown for the position - technically defined as "leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament" - he served as deputy minister for community care under Donald Dewar, before becoming deputy justice minister.

Mr Gray's loss of the Edinburgh Pentlands seat to the Conservatives' David McLetchie was used by the Tories to declare that its "dark days" north of the border were behind it
During his time as a junior minister, he was forced to defend plans - which were eventually dropped - to ban the smacking of children aged three and under.

He went on to take over as minister for enterprise, transport and lifelong learning under Jack McConnell - the hefty job which had earned Ms Alexander the title "minister for everything" when she held the post.

He took on the same duties which had been said to have contributed to her decision to quit and immediately found himself the subject of personal attack from the SNP.

The party claimed Mr McConnell had run out of talent and had been forced to "trawl around the third and fourth division of Labour ranks for talent" to fill ministerial posts.

Mr Gray took on the post in 2002 at a time of sluggish growth for the Scottish economy.

He eventually declared that year it had climbed out of a period of recession.

As enterprise minister he endured an attack from business leaders at CBI Scotland over his refusal to cut tax the following year.

He was also forced to call in the public spending watchdog to probe allegations that economic development agency Scottish Enterprise spent millions of pounds on hiring private consultants, had blundered in applying for European funds and was running into trouble on major projects.

Labour devotee

The claims, in a BBC Scotland investigation, were strenuously denied by the body, but the row refused to die down.

Then came an event Mr Gray was not quite expecting.

Just as the ousting of Tory minister Michael Portillo in the 1997 UK election was held up as a symbol of the collapse of Conservative might in Britain, the Tories claimed the opposite was true when they defeated Mr Gray in the Holyrood election of 2003.

His loss of the Edinburgh Pentlands seat to the Conservatives' David McLetchie was used by the Tories to declare that its "dark days" north of the border were behind it.

Mr Gray, meanwhile, became a special advisor to the then Scottish Secretary Alistair Darling.

He spent four years away from the Scottish Parliament.

Little more than a year after his return to Holyrood, Mr Gray won the Scottish Labour leadership, seeing off competitors Cathy Jamieson and Andy Kerr - both west of Scotland politicians and both cabinet ministers during his Holyrood wilderness years.

Given his statement that it was time for "new conviction", perhaps his status as a Labour devotee from the "other" side of Scotland is just what the party needs.

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