Helen Liddell in the Press

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Leading role for Deputy


THE new title of Deputy Scottish Secretary was given to Helen Liddell yesterday, and she responded with a blunt promise to "get to work to save Scotland".

She strode across the threshold of Dover House in Whitehall clutching pink white and yellow bouquets as farewell gifts from staff at the Treasury, becoming only the fourth woman to achieve the rank of Scottish Office Minister.

In following in the footsteps of Peggy Herbison, who, like Liddell, represented Coatbridge, Baroness Tweedsmuir and Judith Hart, Mrs Liddell gave herself a foot in the door of Cabinet barely four years after becoming an MP at the by-election which followed John Smith's death. She declined to confirm, however, that she had been promised the full post of Scottish Secretary after Donald Dewar's planned departure to Holyrood next year, saying it would have been "presumptuous" of her to have expected such a pledge from the Prime Minister.

Nor would she be drawn on speculation that she had been reluctant to return north, preferring to focus on her new high-profile role campaigning against the SNP threat in the run-up to next May. "The phoney war is now over. It is time to get to work to save Scotland," she said.

But she did confirm that she was now the number two at St Andrew's House, which means she has overtaken Devolution Minister Henry McLeish in seniority, although both are ranked as Ministers of State. She moves into the Scottish Office team as the other Minister of State Brian Wilson moves out to become Trade and Industry Minister.

Mr Dewar said he would announce any change in Scottish Office portfolios today, and played down any talk of rank, seniority or demotion as "nonsense - I said this was a team and it remains a team in which everyone has important responsibilities." He said Mr McLeish was working on the detail of the new Parliament and he looked forward to serving alongside him in it.

Mrs Liddell's buzz-words, carried with her from the Treasury, were modern and modernise. "The main challenge in the job is to modernise Scotland," she said. "I now have a tremendous opportunity to put in place all that we have dreamed of, both for the Scottish Parliament but also a strong Government here in Westminster that believes in Scotland."

The new Deputy Scottish Secretary repeatedly made reference yesterday to the fact that, although she has only been an MP for a short time, her role at the heart of Scottish politics goes back more than a generation to her days as Scottish general secretary of the Labour Party. She recalled being at Dover House in the days of Willie Ross as Secretary of State, and she alluded to the disappointment of the failure to achieve devolution in the late 1970s.

"Scotland's future is as part of a New Britain, the kind of New Britain that New Labour has created but with a new and strong Scottish Parliament, and part of my job is going to be to ease the transition to that Scottish Parliament. We have dreamed about it for years. Now we are about to deliver - and no own goals this time.

"I would remind some people that 20 years ago I took on a very similar job. At that time we had 11 SNP MPs and we were 11 points behind in the opinion polls. If there was a General Election tomorrow, there would be more Labour members in Parliament.

"We've got to say to people 'you cannot use your vote for the Scottish Parliament as a protest vote'. This is serious politics. This is about our children's future."

The Prime Minister had been generous about her performance at the Treasury and told her to go out and fight for Scotland to prevent Scotland being misled, she said. "I am a trier. I am also a humble person. I have been given a golden opportunity to serve my country and I will do it to the best of my ability. To be number two to the guy who is my oldest friend and dearest friend in politics, I just can't tell you how thrilled I am."

Mr Dewar reciprocated: "She is a valued friend of mine. We have worked together on many occasions. She will make a tremendous contribution. She has a reputation for abilities across a whole range of areas and is a tremendous acquisition."

He said Mrs Liddell's task was both to project Labour achievements and emphasise the "shortcomings, dangers and instabilities" of the SNP. This was not a narrow remit, but an opportunity Labour had every intention of grasping.

He denied that her appointment implied that there had been failing up until now. "She brings special qualities of energy, organisation, flair and a feeling for the people of Scotland," he said, extending virtues that were already present in his team.

Mrs Liddell added: "The Government has bedded in, making huge achievements in the last year. I am here to continue the work that Donald and the team have already done."

She denied that local government difficulties past and present in North Lanarkshire would make her vulnerable to attack, as both Monklands East MP and lead campaigner for the Government.

She said: "There are problems in North Lanarkshire that Donald Dewar has identified and acted on. As a Lanarkshire MP, my anxiety is to ensure that my constituents get the best possible service for the money put out. Donald Dewar has acted very swiftly and he has my full support."- July 29