McLeish favourite to succeed Dewar after rivals drop out

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Indy Politics

Labour Party leaders have rallied behind Henry McLeish's bid to succeed Donald Dewar as the Scottish First Minister, in an attempt to avoid an election for the post.

Labour Party leaders have rallied behind Henry McLeish's bid to succeed Donald Dewar as the Scottish First Minister, in an attempt to avoid an election for the post.

The support of cabinet ministers, led by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, makes the Scottish Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning the clear front-runner to succeed Mr Dewar, who died on Wednesday after a brain haemorrhage.

Two other contenders, Susan Deacon, the Health Minister, and Wendy Alexander, the Communities Minister, are understood to have decided not to stand.

Their move will increase pressure on Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, not to enter the race, to enable Labour to avoid a divisive leadership election. He has told friends he will not make a decision until after Mr Dewar's funeral, which is expected to take place in Glasgow next Wednesday.

However, some Labour MSPs who might have been expected to back Mr McConnell are likely to urge him not to stand.

Avoiding a contest would enable the Edinburgh Parliament to appoint a new First Minister within the 28-day deadline set down by the Scotland Act. An election would take longer, requiring voting by MSPs, Westminster MPs, trade unions and party members.

Ministers stood in silence for a minute in memory of Mr Dewar at yesterday's cabinet meeting. Tony Blair paid tribute to Mr Dewar's "contribution to the country, Parliament, the Cabinet, the Labour Party and the people of Scotland". The Scottish Parliament meets today to pay its tributes.

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