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THE SINS OF SPIN : DESPERATE DONALD; Labour MSPs threaten to revolt over spin doctor row.

Scottish Political EditorDONALD Dewar's political credibility lay in tatters last night.

His government was plunged into a state of meltdown yesterday when he was forced to carpet another trusted aide - just hours after spin doctor Phil Chalmers resigned in disgrace following his red-light arrests.

Now many of his own MSPs have admitted they've lost confidence in his leadership.

Dewar's official spokesman David Whitton was the latest to be hauled over the coals for making remarks about the First Minister's former aide John Rafferty - who was recently sacked for making up a story that health minister Susan Deacon had received death threats.

Rafferty last night threatened to sue over Whitton's claim that he was responsible for the fall of kerb crawler Philip Chalmers.

The sacked former spin doctor said: "I have no knowledge of the conviction which has been reported to have taken place in January. I left the services of the First Minister on December 11.

"I have no knowledge of the circumstances of the first conviction. I remain bound by the civil service code of conduct and confidentiality clauses in my contract.

"Mr Whitton's remarks are considered to be actionable and I have been instructed by solicitors to write to the Scottish Executive to ask them for an explanation of them."

Dewar reprimanded Whitton for plunging him into a fresh crisis and ordered he issue a humiliating apology.

The latest twist in the saga of the blundering advisers came just hours after trusted aide Philip Chalmers quit when his drink-related motoring offences in Glagsow's seedy red-light area were exposed.

And Labour MSPs last night spoke of their "depression" over Dewar's lack of leadership and judgement.

One said: "Where will this end. Dewar's credibility is on the line. We all look ridiculous. This can't possibly go on."

A senior Labour figure hit out: "These people should never have been appointed in the first place. Donald was warned both Chalmers and Rafferty were bad news and would land him in trouble but he wouldn't listen. Now he's paying the price."

Another MSP said: "Philip Chalmers had trouble written all over him. Nobody with any sense trusted him an inch.

"He made himself out to be important but all he did was design posters.

"We can soon find someone else to design posters. But we cannot undo the terrible damage this has done to the party and the government. Plenty of us knew something like this would happen but were pushed aside

"Donald should stop ignoring people like us. We have lost confidence in his judgement."

Labour backbencher John McAllion said: "We should get rid of all the special advisers. They are just getting us into trouble.

"The government should rely on its backbenchers far more."

Chalmers quit when it was revealed was caught drunk in his car with a prostitute in Glasgow's red-light area and was nicked again a few weeks later for drink driving in the area.

David Whitton alleged the story came to light because Rafferty spilled the beans but last night he was forced into an embarrassing retraction.

He said: "I dealt with a great deal of telephone calls yesterday. I acknowledge that, in at least one of those conversations, I speculated about the source of the story concerning Philip Chalmers. I should not have speculated in that way.

"No one in the Scottish Executive has any idea where the story came from. I deeply regret my remarks. I regret that they have been printed. I withdraw them unreservedly."

Government insiders at Westminster said they were watching events unfolding with alarm.

They added that the Prime Minister is under pressure to step in and review Labour's operation north of the Border.

The Tories and the SNP added to Dewar's woes by calling for Whitton's head to roll next.

The Nats' parliamentary business manager Mike Russell said: "This has become a game of Donald's dominos - it's one after another.

"Labour are in a state of total meltdown. Donald Dewar has lost all control over events inside his own executive.

"John Rafferty was out of control - now his official spokesman is out of control. Dewar must make a statement to Parliament explaining this shambles."

Scots Tory leader David McLetchie called on Dewar to sack all of his aides. He said: "Why should the Scottish taxpayer continue to bankroll this poisonous nest of vipers?

"Donald Dewar should do us all a favour and sack the lot of them. The father of the nation cannot even run his own household, never mind the country."

If Whitton is forced out, there will be only six of the nine advisers appointed by the Executive left, following the demise of Rafferty and Chalmers.

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace has his own spin doctor, Sam Ghibalden, and Whitton has a deputy, Neil Gillam. Four others make up the unit - Brian Fitzpatrick, John McLaren, Chris Winslow and Professor Duncan
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Author:Davidson, Lorraine
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 27, 2000
Previous Article:Dancer sues for pounds 8million.

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