Alexander Michael Wishart (born January 7, 1958) is a former Scottish Labour politician who served as Prime Minister of Scotland from 1999 to 2010, and as Leader of the Labour Party from 1997 to 2010.
Wishart was first elected to parliament in 1981. He entered cabinet briefly in 1989 as Transport Minister. When Labour returned to government in 1990 he served as Finance Minister. Although as a young backbencher he had been a leading supporter of John Cunningham in his attempts to become leader, in cabinet he and Cunningham clashed frequently. Despite this Wishart was elected Leader of the Labour Party in 1997 with Cunningham's support.
He led Labour to victory in the 1999 election, although falling narrowly short of an overall majority in their own right. As Prime Minister he enacted a moderate domestic agenda, being a leading proponent of public-private partnerships, balanced budgets as well as increased spending on health and education.
Labour were re-elected in 2003, although again falling narrowly short of a majority. Wishart formed a coalition government with the Liberals.
Labour were again able to remain in power following the 2007 election by forming a minority government with the support of the Liberal Party and the Green Party.
Wishart resigned in October 2010.
Alexander Michael Wishart was born on January 7th 1958 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the son of Edward Wishart, a civil servant, and his wife Mary. Both of his parents were ardent members of the Liberal Party.
He was educated at the John Wilson Academy in Edinburgh, before enrolling at Glasgow University in 1977. He became active in Glasgow University Labour Club, and in 1978 was elected its Secretary. He left Glasgow University in 1980 with a degree in History.
Early Political Career
As soon as he left university Wishart immediately sought to enter parliament. He initially sought the candidature for his home constituency of Edinburgh Inner, but failed. Then in March 1981 Donald Simpson, the MP for a safe Labour seat of Glasgow West died. With an election campaign imminent the selection process for his replacement was rapid. In a close vote the 23 year old Wishart was narrowly selected.
He was easily elected in the 1981 Labour landslide. Wishart spent his first parliament entirely on the backbenches, but in 1986 was made a government whip. He was a member of the so called young turks, the 1981 and 1985 intakes of Labour MPs who were staunch supporters of John Cunningham in his attempt to replace Andrew Fraser as Prime Minister. He played a major role in Andrew Fraser's ousting as party leader and Prime Miniser, and the election of Cunningham. He was immediately appointed Chief Whip by Cunningham, where he build up his reputation amongst backbenchers as a stern, forceful, but fair man. He remained Chief Whip when Labour went into opposition following the 1989 election. When Labour returned to power in 1990 he was made Minister of Finance, promoted over several more senior Labour frontbenchers. His March 1991 budget introduced a series of contaversial spending cuts and tax rises, including a particularly contraversial decision to raise VAT on bread and milk. Independent MPs voted against the motion, and the government was brought down.
He was made shadow Leader of the House following the 1991 election, and in effect served as Chief Whip in all but name. It was he that masterminded the defeat of the government in October 1993, paving the way for Labour to return to power without the need for an election. He continued as Leader of the House in government.
In May 1994 he was appointed Minister for the Environment, as well as Deputy Prime Minister, and was regarded by Cunningham himself as his natural successor. As Environment Minister he was responsible for reorganising the scottish National Parks system. Following the 1995 election the centre-right Reform Party led coalition returned to power, and Labour went into opposition. Many expected John Cunningham to resign immediately as Labour Leader, however in a surprising move he announced he intended to remain leader for 18 months, before standing down shortly after his 65th birthday in the spring of 1997. The move was seen by many as an attempt to ensure Wishart suceeded him as leader, over other more senior ministers such as Philip Davidson, Johnny McCrae and Mike Stott.
When John Cunningham finally retired in 1997 Wishart stood in the subsequent leadership election, defeating Mike Stott, Helena Jones and Philip Davidson.
In the run up to the 1999 election Wishart personally intervened in several Labour party selection process' in order to favour candidates more loyal to him, and held a personal veto over the selection of every candidate in every seat. The true extent of his control over the selection process was not to become clear until a decade later.
Wishart led the Labour Party to a landslide victory in the 1999 general election, only narrowly falling short of an overall majority. An agreement was quickly reached with the Green Party, signing a confidence and supply arrangement to guarantee the government a full 4 year term.
During the 2007 election campaign Wishart had announced his intention to serve a full third term and lead Labour into the next election, but that he would stand down subsequent to that. However through 2008 speculation began to rise that Wishart would stand down earlier.
In March 2010 it was reported in the Herald newspaper that during the 1999 general election campaign Wishart had personally intervened in the selection of Labour candidates, and had been behind the decision not to renominate some more experienced former ministers. The scandal, although not illegal, deeply damaged the government.