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The Outsiders; MSPs who could take Dewar's job.

ONE of these MSPs could be the next First Minister of Scotland.

Labour backbenchers are already so sick of the infighting among senior cabinet ministers to get Donald Dewar's job that a relative unknown could land the top post in Holyrood.

Already there's talk of "skipping a generation" and picking one of the rookies who have so-far been kept out of the limelight.

With a full summer of backstabbing and backbiting on the cards, the chances for someone who has been untainted by the tawdry scramble grow stronger every day.

And there's no shortage of raw talent in the ranks of those who make up the less well known members of the Government.

They may not be household names yet but there are at least four ministerial bag carriers who could make the John Major leap from zero to hero.

If the the struggle for a new leader drags on for 18 months, any one of these could find themselves in the frame.

Deputy justice minister Angus Mackay, deputy minister for local government Frank McAveety, deputy education minister Peter Peacock, and deputy minister for the Highlands Alasdair Morrison may all find themselves in the running for the job.

And the quietly-effective deputy social inclusion minister Jackie Baillie could even find herself in the frame for the job leading a Parliament which has taken great pains to ensure a gender balance on the benches.

They may be less well-known than their cabinet bosses, but they haven't fallen into the trap of letting their positions go to their heads.

And crucially most of them haven't lost touch with the party's backbenchers. A number of senior cabinet figures are in for a very rude shock when they discover just how unpopular they are with their own troops.

There's also another factor at play which could prove crucial in who takes over as First Minister.

It's becoming accepted that Labour is suffering from what could be called Craig Brown syndrome.

Everybody knows the team needs a new manager but nobody can come up with the name of a single strong candidate to take over.

Many of the so-called cabinet stick-outs simply represent a pale version of Dewar or are fatally tainted by their obsession with the old-style backstabbing politics of Westminster.

In fact none of Dewar's cabinet colleagues is likely to be anointed as a successor by the First Minister himself.

It's said the only people he really gets on with are the Lib-Dems Ross Finnie and Jim Wallace.

It can be no coincidence that they are the only two who aren't in with a shout for his job and won't be plunging the dagger in his back while he is recovering from his operation.

With Dewar unable or unwilling to hand over the crown, the field will be thrown wide open.

MCAVEETY THE former leader of Glasgow City Council sees himself as being trendy and in touch with the nation's youth. Won a Parliamentarian of the Year award and though the 37-year-old faces a problem in that he lacks gravitas, he is no stranger to rapid promotion under pressure.

MACKAY ARCH-Blairite who was in charge of Edinburgh City Council's finances. Although criticised for being serious-minded to the point of being dull, the 35-year-old has impressed backbenchers as Scotland's drugs minister, and could have a ready-made campaign team among MSPs.

MORRISON WON a well-publicised spat with Wendy Alexander over who sat where in the chamber. A former journalist, the 31-year-old has no fear of the press, but his lack of top-level experience will count against him - but it is only a matter of time before he attains high office.

PEACOCK FORMER independent leader of Highland Council who only joined the Labour Party last year. Known as a backroom fixer, those who underestimate the quiet 49-year-old do so at their peril. Ability is not in question but his lack of history in the party will count against him.
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Author:Mackenna, Ron
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 2, 2000
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