Wendy Alexander, the MSP who was widely regarded as the biggest rival to the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Jack McConnell, abruptly resigned from the Scottish Executive yesterday.
The 38-year-old Glasgow-born member for Paisley North, who was Minister for Enterprise, Training and Lifelong Learning, was a protégé of the late Donald Dewar and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. She has been frequently tipped as a future first minister.
Last November she was seen as a possible candidate in the race to succeed Henry McLeish, who quit as First Minister in a row over expenses. But she decided not to stand at the last minute, allowing Mr McConnell to stand unopposed for the posts of First Minister and leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.
She was rewarded in the reshuffle that followed his appointment, Mr McConnell adding transport to her existing responsibilities for enterprise and lifelong learning. Critics claimed the move was intended to keep his ambitious colleague overburdened and too busy to issue any challenges to the leadership.
However, over the last few months it has been claimed that Ms Alexander, whose brother Douglas is a Westminster MP, has become increasingly discontented with her workload and relations with cabinet colleagues.
Five years to the day since she went to work for Donald Dewar in the Scottish Office, the career politician, who has been a member of the Cabinet since the Scottish Parliament was created, said she felt "the time is right for me to stand down from ministerial office".
Although her post will be filled for the meantime by her deputy, Lewis Macdonald, Mr McConnell must now consider a permanent replacement able to carry the same workload or implicitly admit that Ms Alexander had been deliberately overburdened.
John Swinney, the Scottish National Party leader, accused Mr McConnell of picking on Ms Alexander. "She was easily his most able minister but he wanted her out from the start," Mr Swinney said.Reuse content