Anger as Jack McConnell is granted a peerage

FORMER First Minister Jack McConnell was under pressure to stand down as an MSP last night after he was elevated to the House of Lords.

• Picture: TSPL

The Labour MSP joined former deputy prime minister John Prescott, Northern Ireland firebrand Ian Paisley and former home secretary John Reid in a long list of new "working peers" given lordships by Gordon Brown before he left office.

Mr McConnell said his first priority remained his constituents in Motherwell and Wishaw, despite his new role in the Lords. He refused to be drawn on whether he would stand for election to the Scottish Parliament next year.

The SNP, which has previously attacked Lord Foulkes for being both an MSP and a peer, hit out at Mr McConnell for joining a growing list of Scottish Labour politicians with duties at both Holyrood and Westminster.

But Mr McConnell, who has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since its inception in 1999 and is now a roving ambassador for international development, said he had no immediate plans to step down.

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: "Having been given a non-job by (Gordon] Brown instead of a real job in Malawi, he has finally been rewarded by Labour with a party political peerage.

"Unfortunately, he now has no escape from Lord Foulkes or Labour's other dual-mandate politicians, Cathy Jamieson and Margaret Curran, who, it seems, will all be spending more time on the green and red benches than working for their Holyrood constituents."

Mr McConnell described the appointment as a "fresh challenge". He added: "It will be an honour to serve as the former Scottish first minister in the House of Lords.

"My experience and understanding of devolution, coalition government, international development and peace-building will prove useful in the House of Lords, and I will do what I can there, standing up for Scotland, but helping shape Britain, too. My first priority continues to be my constituency in the Scottish Parliament."

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said that Mr McConnell's peerage was "well-deserved and appropriate recognition".

"Jack is Scotland's longest-serving first minister and he ensured we were the first part of the UK to implement the smoking ban," Mr Gray said. "His other achievements include the Fresh Talent initiative, Project Scotland and the historic co-operation agreement between Scotland and Malawi."

Mr McConnell will be joined in the Lords by a number of former Labour MPs, including John Prescott, who had previously said he would turn down a peerage if offered one.

Mr Prescott wrote in his blog: "I welcome the opportunity to continue to campaign in parliament for jobs, social justice and the environment, as well as to hold this Con-Lib government to account."

Former home secretary John Reid, former defence secretary Des Browne and former business secretary John Hutton will all enter the House, where they will be joined by former ministers Quentin Davies, Beverley Hughes, Jim Knight, Angela Smith and Michael Wills. The Former deputy chief whip Tommy McAvoy and John McFall, who was MP for West Dunbartonshire, have also been offered life peerages.

The honours were recommended by Mr Brown when he was prime minister and the number of Labour nominations far outweighs those from other parties, though former Tory leader Michael Howard is among those offered a peerage.

John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said: "It was inevitable that this selection was going to be disproportionate. The outgoing prime minister wishes to reward people for party loyalty.

"There will be another set of working peerages, nominated by the government, which will be heavily Conservative and Lib Dem – it's a two-stage process."

Both the Conservatives and Lib Dems are committed to working towards a wholly elected upper house, but plan in the meantime to appoint Lords by parties in a way that will reflect their shares of the vote.

SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: "Cameron and Clegg promised real reform, they promised the biggest shake-up of Britain's democracy, and what we get is business as usual."

One close aide who features on the working list is Sue Nye, who was with Gordon Brown throughout his time in government. He infamously blamed her for his encounter with "that bigoted woman" Gillian Duffy on the election campaign trail when he did not realise his microphone was still switched on.

Meanwhile, the cross-bench selection of former Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Ian Blair was attacked by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian who was shot dead by officers in the London Underground after they mistook him for a terrorist.

They called his selection a "final slap in the face for our family". Vivian Figueiredo, the 27-year-old's cousin, said: "We are disgusted. "As commissioner, we believe Ian Blair was ultimately accountable for the death of Jean, for the lies told and the cover-up."

Other new peers include the former Northern Ireland first minister the Rev Ian Paisley. The Democratic Unionist Party firebrand, 83, once told Pope John Paul II: "I denounce you, Anti-Christ." He will join his wife, Baroness Eileen Paisley, in the House of Lords.

His successor as Democratic Unionist leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson, said: "The recognition of Dr Paisley's long and illustrious political career is well deserved.

"For some four decades, Dr Paisley represented the people of North Antrim with distinction. His leadership of the DUP and principled position throughout his career is worthy of this honour."

Former Play School presenter Floella Benjamin was also offered a peerage, as was antisocial behaviour campaigner Helen Newlove, who said: "I'm overwhelmed at this honour.

"I am just an ordinary woman, propelled into high profile by a set of horrifying circumstances, which I wish with all my heart had never occurred. I've just asked that people take responsibility for their own actions."

Former first minister praised for charity work in Malawi

SCOTLAND'S longest-serving first minister, Jack McConnell is a former mathematics teacher and general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party.

He was elected to Holyrood in 1999, immediately being appointed finance minister in Donald Dewar's first Scottish Executive administration.

After Mr Dewar's death, Mr McConnell ran an ultimately unsuccessful leadership race against Henry McLeish, before being appointed as education secretary. Following a scandal over the sub-letting of his constituency office, Mr McLeish resigned in 2001 and Mr McConnell was elected unopposed to the Labour leadership and office of first minister, although only after he had admitted an affair he had had some years earlier.

He resigned as Scottish Labour leader in 2007, following the party's defeat in the Holyrood elections.

He took up a role as an ambassador to Malawi for the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative, a partnership between the charitable foundations of the former United States president Bill Clinton and the Scottish businessman Sir Tom Hunter.

Despite the 2007 election defeat, Mr McConnell has remained a respected Scottish parliamentarian and debater, and has earned praise for his efforts in international development.

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