A look at former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

Image caption,
Wendy Alexander is stepping down as an MSP, after being elected to Holyrood in 1999

Wendy Alexander was always regarded as one of Labour's brightest talents.

The outspoken former government minister was tipped as a future Scottish Labour leader almost since the beginning of devolution itself.

One thing is for sure - Ms Alexander's stormy, 10-month stint doing the job, when she eventually got it, isn't likely to be forgotten any time soon.

Elected MSP for Paisley North in 1999, the former management consultant came to public attention when, as a Holyrood minister, she became responsible for abolishing controversial laws banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

This was the long-running saga over the repeal of Section 28, which dogged the early days of devolution.

Ms Alexander, regarded as a protege of the late first minister Donald Dewar and a close ally of Gordon Brown, was an obvious target for the high-profile Keep the Clause campaign.

She focussed on the man behind the group, multi-millionaire and SNP donor Brian Souter, saying there were more important priorities than the transport tycoon's "misguided" efforts, before Labour spin doctors forced her to take a back seat.

Ms Alexander advised Mr Dewar during his time as secretary of state for Scotland and was part of the team which drafted the Scotland Act, paving the way for devolution.

In the first parliament, she became communities minister and, after Henry McLeish's elevation to first minister, moved into his former position on enterprise.

Image caption,
Wendy Alexander, on the far left, served in Donald Dewar's devolved government

She tackled the issue of housing stock transfer - strongly opposed among Glasgow housing groups - and waded into a row involving the senior Australian banker Frank Cicutto.

After making comments - which he said had been misinterpreted - that Scotland's economy had been in permanent recession for 200 years, Ms Alexander made a speech at an STUC conference in which she referred to "pesky Aussie put-downs".

"Rather than saying Scotland doesn't give a four X, I thought I would start by setting the record straight," she told delegates.

When Mr McLeish quit as first minister following the "muddle not a fiddle" row over expenses for his Westminster constituency office, Ms Alexander considered running to replace him.

She surprised many when she decided not to stand and, after Jack McConnell took the job, Ms Alexander had transport added to her responsibilities, becoming known as "minister for everything".

She later quit the cabinet after becoming, it is thought, increasingly discontented with her workload and relations with colleagues.

Ms Alexander received a thank-you letter from former ministerial colleagues in recognition of her "substantial contribution", but less complimentary about the situation was her MP brother Douglas, himself a former member of the UK government Cabinet.

He claimed she had suffered "outrageous" treatment at the hands of the media as a minister and that the power she held was resented.

The Alexander siblings had been forced to fight their own image war, against detractors who described them as "the Donnie and Marie Osmond of Scottish politics".

Ms Alexander's move to the backbenches, however, did not equate to a drop in profile.

Ms Alexander criticised the Scottish Executive's management of its social justice policy and its efficiency savings drive and eventually became convener of the Scottish Parliament's powerful finance committee.

A row also erupted over a leaked letter she wrote to former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, in which she said perhaps the last time the Labour movement in Scotland had made "a real intellectual contribution" to the party nationally was in 1906.

After the 2007 election, with the SNP in government and Labour out of power for the first time in eight years Ms Alexander finally seized the opportunity to lead her party.

Her road to the leadership became less and less rocky by the day as, one by one, possible contenders announced their decisions not to stand, while a challenge from the left of the party failed to attract enough nominations.

Ms Alexander, who in the end emerged as the sole candidate, stated: "The people of Scotland told us loud and clear they wanted change.

"They didn't whisper - they shouted it. So change we must".

Image caption,
Wendy Alexander was tasked with holding Alex Salmond to account at first minister's questions

The mother of twins wasted little time in holding the new SNP administration to account.

Her primary target was Finance Secretary John Swinney - a man with whom she probably sympathised, given his large area of ministerial responsibility.

She exemplified this during an eyebrow-raising speech in the Scottish Parliament when she compared him to the hungry caterpillar - a well known children's character - eating his way through announcements on post offices, bridge tolls, welfare and fairness, transport and energy policy.

"That night he had a stomach ache," she told MSPs.

But just a few months into the job, the leadership was rocked by an episode which it, and the party, could have done without.

Ms Alexander's leadership election campaign team had accepted an illegal £950 donation from Jersey-based businessman Paul Green, which broke the rules because he was not a UK voter.

She soldiered on, refusing to resign under intense pressure from the SNP, insisting she was confident of being cleared by the Electoral Commission watchdog.

'Bring it on'

The resignation at the time of Peter Hain as UK Work and Pensions Secretary to "clear his name," as the police investigated more than £100,000 of undeclared donations to his deputy Labour leadership campaign, added to the pressure.

Ms Alexander was eventually cleared by the Electoral Commission, concluding she took significant steps to comply with the law - but did not take "all reasonable steps".

The SNP claimed the finding was a whitewash.

Ms Alexander used her time as leader to attack "SNP broken promises" - key manifesto commitments which she said had been dropped.

Image caption,
Ms Alexander resigned after a row over her leadership campaign finances

Then there was the "bring it on" episode, where, during a live BBC interview, Ms Alexander called on the SNP to bring forward their planned independence referendum.

It was a bold move, but led to suggestions of a rift between her and the prime minister, who did not overtly back her.

And the donations row would come back to haunt Ms Alexander.

In a separate issue, the Crown Office said she would not be prosecuted over failing to register donations on the MSPs' register of interests.

Ms Alexander insisted she was initially told she did not need to register the donations, after seeking advice from the clerk to the Scottish Parliament's standards committee.

But when the committee decided she did break the rules, it recommended she be banned from parliament for one day.

With Holyrood going into summer recess at the time, Ms Alexander would have had to wait until September for all MSPs to vote on the recommendation.

So, rather than having the issue hanging over her - and the party - Ms Alexander announced her resignation as leader on 28 June, 2008, branding the cross-party committee's decision "partisan".

After a period of relative calm, Ms Alexander got the opportunity to lead the special Holyrood committee scrutinising new powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The UK government proposals were the result of the Calman Commission review of devolution 10 years on - an idea on which Ms Alexander led the way, during her brief time in the leadership and is, in a way, her legacy to Scottish politics.

The inquiry was slightly side-tracked when the old Wendy attacking style once again came to the fore.

Two academics asked for an inquiry after claiming their integrity was compromised by a tough line of questioning from Ms Alexander, while giving evidence to the committee.

A complaint to Holyrood's presiding officer by the two professors fizzled out after it was referred to the committee convener - one Wendy Alexander.

She may have considered then whether there was any merit in standing for re-election.

In 2009, Ms Alexander's leadership successor Iain Gray predicted her political comeback, saying at the time: "Wendy is somebody who still has a big future in Scottish politics."

But, with her dream of a strengthened Scottish Parliament set to become a reality and growing children at home, the time seemed right for Wendy Alexander to call it a day as an elected member at the next election, and help make way for the next generation of Labour MSPs.