Jack McConnell tried to distance Cabinet from Downing Street spin

Scotland's First minister Jack McConnell. Picture: PA
Scotland's First minister Jack McConnell. Picture: PA
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Jack McConnell wanted to lead a Cabinet focused on “substance not spin” when he took office as First Minister, newly-declassified documents have shown.

The Labour politician also called for ministers not to make excuses, to “be available not tired” and to “show concern about the state of Scotland”.

The instructions to the Scottish Cabinet were made in December 2001, just a few days after McConnell officially took over following Henry McLeish’s resignation.

Documents released by National Records of Scotland under the 15-year rule give an insight into his initial approach to leadership. The papers also suggest a deepening relationship between coalition partners Labour and the Lib Dems – who formed the Scottish Executive from 1999 to 2007 – with the arrangement already being described as “remarkably successful and constructive”.

At the time, prime minister Tony Blair had faced criticism for the level of spin emanating from Downing Street.

Minutes from McConnell’s first Cabinet meeting revealed he wanted the forum to become a place for “strategic discussions” and called on ministers to be “more proactive in supporting each other”, particularly on “high-profile and difficult issues”.His “rules of thumb” for the Cabinet included “focus on substance not spin”, “build consensus rather than control”, “be available not tired”, “do not seek to excuse the current position by listing past achievements” and “show concern about the state of Scotland” in speeches, reactions to events and press releases.