Labour denies fix as it prepares to appoint McLeish

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The Scottish executive of the Labour Party is expected to appoint Henry McLeish as Donald Dewar's successor tomorrow, in a fast-track procedure for ensuring continuity in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish executive of the Labour Party is expected to appoint Henry McLeish as Donald Dewar's successor tomorrow, in a fast-track procedure for ensuring continuity in the Scottish Parliament.

The Minister of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning is the favourite to be chosen as Scottish Labour leader, after the death of Mr Dewar last week, at a special meeting of the party's MSPs and Scottish executive.

Labour denied that its plans to circumvent the formal selection procedure were "a fix" that favoured the candidacy of Mr McLeish. It said the procedure would allow any candidate to stand in Stirling tomorrow or in December in a full election involving Labour constituencies, trade unions, MSPs, MPs and MEPs.

"It could not be less of a fix," a Labour Party spokesman said. But some Labour MSPs are wary of claims that Mr McLeish is "the unity candidate" and Downing Street's favourite. He has the approval of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and of Tony Blair.

The new leader will be confirmed by the Scottish Parliament as the "interim" First Minister within the next month. That will be followed by the full election, and is designed to meet the 28-day deadline for finding a new First Minister set by the Scotland Act.

Scottish nationalists attacked Labour's "elaborate and precipitate" procedures. John Swinney, the Scottish National Party leader, said Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister, should take over.

"There is no credible reason why the Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, should not be installed as First Minister on a temporary, time-limited basis, in order that Labour can hold a proper leadership election, over a reasonable period of time, with their full electoral college," Mr Swinney said.

Mr McLeish is expected to face stiff opposition from Jack McConnell, Minister for Finance, who was the first to declare his candidacy yesterday. Wendy Alexander, Minister for Communities, who had been tipped as a possible leader, is now expected to support Mr McLeish.

Mr McConnell said it was important that Labour had "an open, transparent contest, but also that the party is given real alternatives in leadership, campaigning and policy development".

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