Scottish Labour's fragile facade under threat from McLeish
THE irony of the situation cannot have been lost on Jack McConnell.
On the day that he was championing a plan to attract talented Scots back from London, he had to face allegations that he had deliberately forced one of the Scottish Executive’s sharpest minds to leave Scotland and take a job at No 10.
John McTernan was a special adviser in the administration of Henry McLeish, but did not fit in when Mr McConnell came to power and is now working as an adviser to the Prime Minister.
Yesterday, Mr McLeish claimed that Mr McTernan had been frozen out by Mr McConnell, adding: "It seems strange that the Prime Minister finds him valuable but he was not good enough for the present Edinburgh administration."
This was just one of the uncomfortable accusations for Mr McConnell which Mr McLeish tossed into the Scottish political arena yesterday.
The former first minister was getting his revenge two and a half years after being forced to stand down in the biggest scandal since devolution.
The first extracts from his memoirs were published by the Daily Record newspaper yesterday, with three more days of attacks, claims and revelations promised this week.
But when the first instalment appeared yesterday, there was an almost palpable sense of relief from the First Minister’s office.
Some of the allegations were indeed serious: Mr McLeish claimed the Scottish Labour Party was tainted by sectarianism; he revealed the depth of the division between Labour MPs and MSPs, and accused Mr McConnell of briefing against him during his year in charge.
But none of Mr McLeish’s claims was actually new.
One Labour source said: "What have we actually got here? ‘Small frisson in Scottish Labour, a number of people almost woken up’, and that’s it.
"The real test is whether you guys are still writing about this next week - and I doubt it."
None of the claims was serious enough for Mr McConnell to have to confront directly, so he just laughed everything off, even going so far as to claim he had not bothered to read Mr McLeish’s words.
However, what made the claims slightly more newsworthy was that they were being made by a former leader of the Scottish Labour Party and they included direct attacks on the current First Minister.
Also, Mr McLeish exposed serious underlying problems which have the ability to cause long-term damage to the Scottish Labour Party.
The claims about sectarianism and factionalism are particularly damaging. "It should not matter if you are Catholic or Protestant - but in too many constituencies it does," Mr McLeish said.
He said there was a clique around those who had been to Glasgow University, and another from the west "which seemed to think it had some kind of hereditary right to control Scottish Labour".
The former first minister was referring to the "Lanarkshire mafia", the group of largely Celtic-supporting Labour MPs and MSPs who exert enormous power. The First Minister was an outsider, but gradually moved inside by taking over a Lanarkshire seat, moving to the area and going to Celtic games.
Mr McLeish revealed that he had fought constant battles. Sometimes with Mr McConnell, who, he claimed, tried to undermine him by briefing against him; sometimes with other Labour MSPs, and at other times with his Westminster "colleagues" who felt the new parliament had "undermined their position and curtailed their media exposure".
What Mr McLeish has done is expose the cosy unity Labour tries to portray in Scotland as nothing more than a front, erected to fool the public. The problem for the First Minister is that Mr McLeish has started to tear down this facade and although he will not do it on his own, he could start a process which erodes the public’s confidence in Scottish Labour.
If that were to happen, Mr McConnell and his allies may end up regretting their decision to leave the former first minister out in the cold back in 2001 in the way they did.
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