View from the House – David Scott

Although the official opening does not take place until 1 July, the first Scottish parliament in 300 years is now up and running.

It has a presiding officer, Sir David Steel, and a first minister, Donald Dewar, who will have a team of no fewer than 20 senior and junior ministers.

The choice of Jack McConnell as finance minister was the big surprise of this week’s announcement of the ministerial team.

There had been some speculation that 39-year-old McConnell, a former general secretary of the Scottish Labour party, would be given a ministerial position.

But no-one had suggested he would be allocated the high-profile finance post, one that is being seen as the equivalent of the chief secretary to the Treasury.

After the 1997 general election, McConnell stood down as party general secretary to seek a place in the new parliament.

He had a tough task in winning his place as the Scottish parliament candidate for the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency, defeating his nearest rival by a majority of only two votes.

In his Labour Party post McConnell, a former group leader on Stirling council, latterly spearheaded a big crackdown on sleaze and mismanagement in Scottish local government.

He was involved in the party’s abortive attempt to discipline Pat Lally, the former Lord Provost of Glasgow, who was accused of bringing the Labour party into disrepute without the party really being able to define the charges.

McConnell has clearly defied his critics in the party by winning a top post in the new Scottish government.

He is likely to prove an able finance minister. He has a sharp mind, a good knowledge of public finance and will be able to take a tough stance if necessary.

The new minister faces a big challenge. He will be responsible for overall control of a Westminster-determined block grant totalling £15bn.

And while there is a separate local government minister, Wendy Alexander, he will also be responsible for the funding of councils. This will inevitably bring him into conflict with many former colleagues in local authorities.

David Scott is Scottish government editor of the Scotsman.

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