Spin doctor's revelations add further fuel to McLeish affair scandal

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Indy Politics

The scandal surrounding the fall of Henry McLeish as Scotland's First Minister was reignited yesterday when his former spin doctor revealed confidential details about the politician's final days in office.

Peter MacMahon, until recently a close friend of Mr McLeish, was employed for 13 months as his personal spokesman and media adviser, until allegations of an expenses muddle over the sub-letting of a constituency office forced the former leader to resign.

On Thursday Mr MacMahon was accused of betraying the confidence of his former boss, and of possibly breaching the Official Secrets Act, by writing his own version of the affair.

The disclosures, for which Mr MacMahon is reported to have received a five-figure sum, immediately sparked a political row as critics from all parties called for an inquiry into whether the former aide had breached the Civil Service's code of conduct.

By revealing details of how Mr McLeish failed to quell the crisis over his Westminster office allowances and the agonising hours of discussion between himself and the former leader, Mr MacMahon could face an action for damages, if he is found to have broken any confidences.

Yesterday John Swinney, leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote to Muir Russell, the permanent secretary at the Scottish Executive, requesting a Civil Service investigation into Mr MacMahon's conduct.

"The whole McLeish affair was an indictment on the way in which the Labour Party runs Scotland," Mr Swinney said.

"And for Peter MacMahon so soon after the event to be rushing into print, to set out the whole ridiculous saga again, to me breaches his responsibilities as a civil servant."

David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory leader, described the article as a "tawdry betrayal. He has taken the pieces of silver and betrayed his boss. Henry McLeish is not a man for who I stood up much, but I think he has been badly betrayed and let down," he said.

In Mr MacMahon's candid account of the downfall of his boss, the former spin doctor recounted how it was left to him to tell Mr McLeish's wife that his resignation was imminent.

However, Mr MacMahon also detailed how many of the problems faced by Mr McLeish had come about because he had been reluctant to divulge personal details and underestimated the extent of intense media scrutiny he would be placed under as First Minister.

Mr MacMahon described in The Scotsman newspaper the moment when he realised that Mr McLeish's career as First Minister was over.

"It took a couple of seconds for the news to sink in. I put my head in my hands. 'That's it then. He's finished'."

Mr MacMahon defended his actions and promised to continue his revelations with details of relations between cabinet ministers and of Mr McLeish's achievements while in office. "I am a journalist and I believe it is a story which had to be told to put the record straight," he said yesterday.

Mr MacMahon, who refused to discuss reports that he had been paid £5,000 and been given a job with The Scotsman to write a series of three articles about his time as aide to the former first minister, denied he was trying to extricate himself from any blame surrounding the scandal.

"I take responsibility for my part in the advice I gave Henry McLeish. I enjoyed working for him, but that has come to an end and I want to tell the story," Mr MacMahon said.

"I am a professional journalist and I get paid for what I do."