In the news

October 27, 2000

The key contender to succeed Henry McLeish as Scotland's minister for enterprise and lifelong learning is Wendy Alexander, dubbed "the pint-sized policy powerhouse". Noted for her intellect, the 36-year-old was said to be the late Donald Dewar's choice to succeed him as first minister. But she did not put herself forward for last Saturday's contest, in which Mr McLeish was narrowly elected interim leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

A Labour Party researcher for many years and special adviser to Mr Dewar, Ms Alexander was elected to the Scottish Parliament as MSP for Paisley North, and was immediately appointed minister for communities, responsible for social inclusion and anti-poverty strategies. It is a portfolio in which she has a genuine interest. She is a daughter of the manse, with a solid leftwing Presbyterian background. Her father, Rev Douglas Alexander, conducted Donald Dewar's funeral service. Her brother Douglas is Westminster MP for Paisley South.

Despite being considered one of the most influential people in the Scottish Labour Party, she had a remarkably low public profile before becoming a minister. She has a reputation for aloofness among colleagues, but has been tireless in her bids to combat social exclusion, setting up task forces, consultations and action groups. She hit the headlines earlier this year for her support for the repeal of Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. She was hailed as a champion by gay rights activists and vilified by campaigners for it. Ironically, she once named Stagecoach boss Brian Souter, who bankrolled the campaign to retain Section 28, as one of her heroes.

She began studying medicine at Glasgow University, but shifted to history and economic history, graduating with a first-class honours degree. She went on to take a masters in industrial relations at Warwick University and an MBA from the Insead international business school in France.

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