Wallace steps in as Dewar undergoes heart tests

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Donald Dewar, the First Minister of Scotland and former Cabinet minister, was forced to step down temporarily from his post yesterday after he was taken to hospital for tests in a cardiac unit.

Mr Dewar, 62, who has led the Scottish Parliament since its creation last year, had gone to hospital for a check-up about a month ago when a "minor irregularity" was discovered. The MP for Glasgow Anniesland was undergoing further tests in the cardiac unit in Glasgow Royal Infirmary yesterday, where he was expected to stay overnight.

Mr Dewar's role as First Minister will be taken over by his deputy Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Scottish Parliament. The move means that Mr Wallace is the first Liberal Democrat to lead a nation since David Lloyd George was British Prime Minister. Mr Dewar's spokesman declined to discuss the nature of the tests, or of the "irregularity" that had been picked up. "I am not a doctor. I think we will leave it up to the doctors to tell us what that is," he said.

He insisted that yesterday's hospital trip had been pre-arranged for a period when Mr Dewar's schedule would permit it, but he admitted that the First Minister must be feeling some degree of apprehension. "Clearly, he is as concerned about his health as anyone else would be," said the spokesman. He said no bulletins would be issued by the hospital.

Appealing for privacy on his behalf, the spokesman said: "He is Donald Dewar, First Minister - but he is also Donald Dewar, citizen, as well."

Since his initial tests at Stobhill hospital, and yesterday's tests at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Mr Dewar has been engaged in a busy round of duties, including a visit to Japan and a speech last week to the Scottish TUC annual conference in Edinburgh.

His spokesman said Mr Dewar had taken the view that he did not want to cancel these important and long-standing engagements.

"The First Minister is not a man who complains about how he is feeling or the state of his health. He had gone in for a normal check-up, and this was detected in the course of that normal check," he said.