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McQUITTIN' Sleaze council boss resigns .. but party chiefs praise him as 'honest and decent'.

THE LEADER of scandal-ridden North Lanarkshire Council yesterday bowed to intense pressure and threw in the towel.

The roller-coaster ride of Harry McGuigan - who survived four attempts to oust him by his own council members and a direct call for his resignation by Donald Dewar - ended with the surprise announcement late yesterday afternoon that he was quitting.

He had infuriated the Labour Party with his refusal to resign following revelations of pounds 4.6m losses run up by his council's direct labour organisation.

Undaunted by stark tales of his council's astonishing bonus scheme - which saw one plumber picking up pounds 54,100 a year - Mr McGuigan had clung on to power in recent weeks while Labour seemed powerless to act.

Yesterday, however, citing family pressures and worries over the jobs of workers in the DLO, he said he would formally step down as leader of the Labour-controlled authority at the next meeting of the full council on September 16.

"My family are upset and do not recognise the man that has been portrayed in recent months," he said, adding that he did not intend to leave Scottish politics.

In a strange twist, Labour's Scottish General Secretary Alex Rowley issued a statement apparently clearing Mr McGuigan of any responsibility for the DLO's problems.

"I would want to make clear my view that Harry McGuigan is an honest decent, able and hard working council leader and is in no way personally responsible for the overspend of North Lanarkshire's DLO," said Mr Rowley.

Mr Rowley added: "I know that Harry McGuigan and his family have been under immense pressure in recent times and I think his decision today will be shown to be the correct one in the long term."

SNP leader Alex Salmond was less welcoming of the way Mr McGuigan's departure had come about, and demanded to know what deals, if any, had been struck.

He asked: "Why did it require a back stairs deal for this resignation? Because they couldn't remove him by the normal route?

"Clearly a motion to remove him was withdrawn at last week's council meeting.

"I think the problem with the Labour Party is that they think everything can be handled with smoke screens and spin doctors."

Mr Salmond demanded to know whether Mr McGuigan's position as a member of the Scottish Labour Party Executive would be affected and whether the appeal against his failure to make the panel of candidates for the Scottish Parliament would continue.

"There is a pounds 4.6m deficit," he added. "That remains at the council. Who is going to pick up the tab for it?"

Mr McGuigan, 50, in announcing his decision, said he accepted no responsibility for the overspend at the DLO and like other councillors, had had no knowledge of it.

"I've always tried to lead the council in an open, honest and participative way," he said.

"It has been distressing to my family and to me personally that some within the Labour Group have sought to describe me as "arrogant, dictatorial and peremptory" and have suggested that I have conducted the leadership in an undemocratic fashion. Such statements astound me."

He said he would be taking legal advice about two unnamed SNP councillors who he claimed had made defamatory remarks about him and his knowledge of the DLO situation.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mackenna, Ron
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 18, 1998
Previous Article:Liddell's a real boost for SNP.

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