McConnell gives up golf to attend event

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The Independent Online

Scotland'S First Minister, Jack McConnell, was forced into a humiliating U-turn yesterday over his decision not to attend D-Day commemoration events in Normandy in favour of a golf-club dinner.

Scotland'S First Minister, Jack McConnell, was forced into a humiliating U-turn yesterday over his decision not to attend D-Day commemoration events in Normandy in favour of a golf-club dinner.

In the face of fierce criticism from the British Legion, opposition parties and the public, he pulled out of the event at St Andrews to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) and announced he would represent Scotland in Normandy.

The climbdown came less than two hours after Mr McConnell insisted the Government was already represented and that the commemorations should not be turned into a "political football".

But he was forced to backtrack in the face of condemnation that accused the First Minister of shaming the memory of those who died.

Mr McConnell's aides claimed he had accepted the offer of dinner at the R&A before the Normandy invitation arrived and said there was no intention of a snub.

Veterans' organisations and opposition parties reacted with anger and astonishment to his original decision, given that 25 per cent of the British contingent in the landings were Scots.

"There were 60 years to prepare for this anniversary, it's an extremely important one; it's the last-ever really big D-Day anniversary which veterans will be able to attend," Neil Griffiths, of the Royal British Legion in Scotland, said. "Leaders from all over the world will be there - but not our First Minister."

Yesterday the row spread to Wales, where its First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, was also criticised for not attending the eventsin favour of a golfing event. Mr Morgan is to attend a meeting at the Celtic Manor resort near Newport to discuss Wales' hosting of the Ryder Cup in 2010. Wales will be represented in Normandy by Edwina Hart, the social justice minister.

Fortunately for Mr McConnell, the R&A provided an escape route when it said yesterday it would have no problem if he were to change his plans.

But David Mills, a D-Day veteran, said: "I'm sure it will have cost him thousands of votes."

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