Chisholm quits the Executive after voting against Labour on Trident
Scots Labour Party wide open
By HAMISH MACDONELL SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR
EDINBURGH (22 December 2006) - MALCOLM Chisholm, the communities minister, resigned from Jack McConnell's Cabinet last night after deserting the Labour Party in a key debate on nuclear weapons and voting with the SNP.
Mr Chisholm typed out his resignation letter and e-mailed it to the First Minister after the vote, effectively taking the decision to go on his own terms before he was sacked.
Mr McConnell, who had been in bed with bronchitis all day, accepted Mr Chisholm's resignation, also by e-mail, and then issued only a short statement of support in return. The First Minister will not name a replacement until the new year.
Although nuclear weapons policy is reserved to Westminster, Mr McConnell has made clear his support for the Prime Minister's decision to replace Trident submarines with a new fleet of nuclear vessels.
The SNP, which opposes nuclear weapons, tried to exploit discontent in Labour ranks by calling a debate and a vote on the issue at Holyrood yesterday.
The Nationalists did not win the vote but will be delighted that they managed to secure the scalp of a minister.
Mr Chisholm was one of four Labour MSPs to rebel over the replacement of Trident weapons but he was the only minister to do so. On such a crucial vote, dissent from back-benchers is tolerated by the party whips, but a similar show of rebellion by ministers against the expressed wishes of the First Minister is seen as inexcusable.
Mr Chisholm has made no secret of his opposition to plans to replace Trident, but he could have stayed away from the chamber or abstained. Instead, he voted with the SNP in a deeply provocative act which infuriated the First Minister and undermined his authority.
As soon as he voted with the opposition, Mr Chisholm realised his future was untenable and drafted his resignation letter. He wrote: "It is with deep regret that I found myself unable to support the official Labour position on the issue of Trident today. In those circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that it is a reserved issue, I realise that it is not tenable for me to continue as one of your ministers."
Mr Chisholm added: "I am sorry again that we have had this particular disagreement on a very important reserved issue but that in no way affects my strong support and regard for you, which I have consistently voiced over the past few years."
Mr McConnell said afterwards: "Malcolm Chisolm has made a substantial contribution to devolved government in Scotland in both the health and communities portfolios, and I am very grateful for that.
"But I understand Malcolm's position and have accepted his resignation."
Mr Chisholm's resignation is the second to hit the First Minister in the last two months. In November, he lost Peter Peacock, his then education minister, who resigned because of ill-health.
Now he will have to find another Cabinet minister from the ranks of his junior ministerial team and then promote a back-bencher, and it will not be easy to find someone of Mr Chisholm's experience and status to fill the job.
In the end, Labour did not suffer unduly from Mr Chisholm's rebellion. The SNP motion opposing the replacement of Trident was defeated by 72 votes to 45, with two abstentions.
The other Labour MSPs who rebelled were the left-wingers Elaine Smith, Marlyn Glen and Bill Butler.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's Holyrood leader, said: "I congratulate Mr Chisholm for taking a principled stance on this issue. Malcolm Chisholm's resignation is a body blow to Mr McConnell. Only two weeks ago, Mr McConnell told all MSPs to act with their conscience and now it appears that he cannot stand to have anyone with integrity in his own Cabinet."
She added: "The First Minister has failed to stand up for Scotland on the issue of Trident and has time and time again rolled over to his London bosses. This whole issue demonstrates just how out of touch he is with the Scottish public and even members of his own party."
CAREER OF REBELLION AND RESIGNATION
THIS is not the first time that Malcolm Chisholm has rebelled and resigned from government. In 1997 he became the first minister to resign from Tony Blair's government when he quit as a junior minister in protest at plans to cut benefits.
A noted left-winger, he has long been unhappy with some of the policies adopted by New Labour. In March 2003, as health minister, he voted with the Labour leadership on a vote on Iraq at Holyrood. He regretted it and made a public apology to his constituents through a megaphone. This year the issue of division became Trident and its replacement. Mr Chisholm did not hide his opposition to nuclear weapons and spoke out against Mr Blair's decision to replace Trident. That was acceptable to party managers but voting with the SNP against Labour, was not.
Last updated: 22-Dec-06 00:20 GMT
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