'Frustrated' McConnell blames Westminster and Iraq for election defeat

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JACK McConnell has blamed the war in Iraq and turmoil in Westminster for his election defeat in May's Scottish elections, claiming that matters "were outwith my control" ahead of the poll.

In his only full interview following his resignation as Labour leader last week, McConnell admitted he felt "total frustration" during the campaign over his inability to seize the agenda.

The war in Iraq, speculation about Gordon Brown's takeover as PM, and other Westminster affairs overshadowed his campaign, he said, depriving him of the chance to state his case. He also conceded that there was "tension" between the leadership of the Scottish and UK Labour which had divided the party over its election plans.

In a wide-ranging discussion, McConnell also declared that:

• He envisaged some powers being removed from the Scottish Parliament and handed back to Westminster, if necessary. But he also said the "best thing" might be for some powers to be transferred to Edinburgh;

• "British institutions" - such as sporting bodies and the BBC - had still not adapted to devolution. "It's almost like we're under the radar," he said;

• Had he won in May, the job would have been "very tough".

On the campaign in winter and spring, he recalled: "Things were outwith my control, what was happening in Iraq and so on. I could try and persuade people that what happened in here was what they should vote on, but an awful lot of people decided not to do that."

He added: "It was total frustration that politics was being dominated by what was happening at Westminster - and that was everything, from the hand over of Prime Ministerial power to the war, to all sorts of things... that was very frustrating because, ultimately, I cared about this place. I cared about what was happening here and I cared about what we were doing and the choices for the future. That wasn't what was dominating public consciousness."

Asked whether he blamed Tony Blair, he said: "I think it was probably more events than any particular personality. And there was definitely a mood for change that the SNP galvanised very cleverly." He admitted there was internal strife in the Labour Party prior to the poll. "I think there is tension between the Scottish leadership and the UK leadership with potential at least for division over things like campaign strategy."

On Friday, Wendy Alexander conceded that Labour had "failed to convince the people of Scotland that we deserved their continuing support".

JACK ON BEING FIRST MINISTER

"I will always be grateful that I had the chance. I've been places most people don't get the chance to go. Things that I've really cared about, I've had the chance to do something about rather than just sit in the pub moaning about them."

JACK ON BRIDGET

"There were occasions where she would maybe be having a coffee with a guy on business, and people would phone the press office of the Executive to say: 'Is there a problem with the First Minister and his wife?'"

JACK ON 'VILLAGATE'

"I just thought it was all about jealousy of my family and their family. Two young couples, all successful, and there are horrible, small-minded, bitter people out there who can't handle it."

JACK ON THE FUTURE

"There is no point in thinking about what might have happened. I could eat myself up for the next 30 years thinking about what might have been, and if I get into that I am never going to be happy. And I should be happy."