McConnell is new Scottish Labour leader

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Indy Politics

Jack McConnell, Scotland's first minister-in-waiting, was yesterday officially confirmed as the new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

At a meeting of Labour MSPs and the party executive body in Glasgow, the former education minister, the only name in the frame after Enterprise minister Wendy Alexander and deputy Health minister Malcolm Chisholm pulled out of the nominations, received the backing of more than 97 per cent of members. Among the MSPs who did not attend the meeting were former first minister Henry McLeish, and the Parliament minister Tom McCabe.

Despite criticism that, as the only candidate, his appointment is more of a coronation than a democratic election, Mr McConnell is expected to be officially named as first minister when the Scottish Parliament meets on Thursday.

His appointment comes only nine days after Mr McLeish was forced to resign after becoming embroiled in a row over office expenses he claimed while a Westminster MP. As the country's third leader in two years, Mr McConnell is already aware that the reputation of the Scottish Parliament is at stake, and both his professional and personal life are under the spotlight.

In an attempt to head off any revelations which could divert attention from his role as first minister, he last week publicly admitted to having one extra-marital affair seven years ago. By the end of the week there were further allegations that he used his then position as general secretary of the Labour Party to ask MPs to pay the wages of his mistress, a public relations officer working for the party.

With speculation growing of more disclosures to come before next Thursday, Mr McConnell threatened legal action against any newspapers carrying "absurd and laughable" allegations about his private conduct involving another unidentified woman.

Mr McConnell yesterday attempted to wrestle the agenda back on to a political track. "The responsibility of leadership is not something I take lightly," said the man who has been nicknamed "Jack-the-Lad" by political opponents.

"Scotland's first minister must lead a Scottish Parliament that is worthy of the pride and confidence of the people of Scotland. I am determined to exercise that leadership in a style that respects the great democratic traditions of Scotland."