Row denied as McConnell's senior aide resigns

JACK McConnell’s senior political aide, Jeane Freeman, is leaving the Scottish Executive, it emerged last night.

Ms Freeman, who resigned as a special adviser in April to work with Mr McConnell for the Labour Party during the UK election, has told the First Minister that she does not want to be re-appointed.

Last night, a source close to Mr McConnell denied that Ms Freeman’s departure was related to a reported row between her and John Elvidge, the senior civil servant at the Executive.

The source dismissed claims that Ms Freeman had clashed with Mr Elvidge over his failure to re-appoint her partner, Susan Stewart, to her post as Scotland’s representative at the British Embassy in Washington.

The source said: "Those reports were simply wrong. The fact is that Jeane wants to move on to another challenge. Elections always provide natural break points for special advisers and Jeane will have the full support of the First Minister in whatever job she takes on next.

"Indeed, he was keen to get Jeane’s agreement to continue to provide him with advice from outwith his immediate team when they discussed the matter this week."

Ms Freeman’s departure is a blow to Mr McConnell as she was one of the first appointments he made as First Minister in November 2001.

After the departure of Mike Donnelly, Ms Freeman became his senior political aide, attending the Scottish Cabinet. She specialised in the crucial justice and health portfolios, where she was Mr McConnell’s "eyes and ears" working to make sure ministers delivered on his reform agenda.

Her place as the senior special adviser will be taken by Mr McConnell’s spin-doctor, Douglas Campbell, who will attend the Cabinet and the civil service Scottish ‘board’, the Scottish Executive management group.

In her resignation letter to the First Minister, Ms Freeman said "I know that if I was to rejoin the team now then, quite properly, I would be making a commitment through to the Parliament election in 2007.

"I have been able to use the recent weeks to reflect on whether that is what I wish to do and have decided that, after four years in this work, this is the right time for me to consider what other options may be available to me. I also hope that at the mid-point of your administration, this is also the best time for any consequent changes you may wish to make to your special adviser team."