Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "McLeish on the rack"

"Officegate!" Ever heard of it? If you live south of the border you will probably be unaware of the current big story in Scotland. It isn't the attempt by the islanders of Gigha to buy the island. It isn't even the start of the Scottish Parliament's attempt to stop people killing foxes. No - it is about the First Minister, Henry McLeish, and an election leaflet that had the address of his office on it, which has led Scottish TV news and "splashed" the Scottish papers.

Apparently, McLeish has broken election law because his office is funded by the state. That candidates from all parties do the same doesn't seem to matter. Only in Scotland, where since devolution the media haven't a clue how to handle a local political story, could such trivia be reported seriously. The ailing Scotland on Sunday and nearly all the rest of the media think that the best way to mark McLeish's first year in office is to smear him.

The First Minister knows he needs a thick skin. For years Donald Dewar was lambasted in the Scottish papers, only to be made a saint as soon as he died. The Scottish Parliament makes a habit of prioritising issues that people don't give a stuff about, such as fox-hunting. The media, in turn, report events that make the parliament look like what Tony Blair called "a parish council". But for once, Scotland biggest-selling daily paper, the Daily Record, has bucked the trend and reported "Officegate" sensibly. It said: "Every now and then the Scottish Parliament works itself up into a frenzy . . . nearly always about nothing very much. Meanwhile, important issues that matter in the lives of ordinary Scots are forgotten."

McLeish may be "on the rack" in the eyes of the political chattering classes, but fortunately the punters aren't so stupid - and the Daily Record knows it.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The rise and rise of President Blair