I Helped to Build Holyrood ..This Is Breaking My Heart Wendy Alexander Yesterday; Black Saturday for Labour as Wendy Quits

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Byline: By MARK AITKEN Political Editor

SHATTERED Wendy Alexander plunged Labour into crisis yesterday by quitting as leader after just nine months.

Her voice breaking with emotion, she told the Sunday Mail she was sick of the personal attacks on her character.

Alexander said she would stay on as an MSP but spend more time with husband Brian Ashcroft and two-year-old twins Caitlin and Michael.

Her resignation is a body blow for Gordon Brown, who saw Labour beaten into fifth place by the BNP in Henley last week - and now faces a by-election in Glasgow East after MP David Marshall quit for health reasons.

Cash-strapped Labour now face the headache of a leadership battle between ex-ministers Andy Kerr and Iain Gray at a time when the SNP are racing away in the polls.

Alexander said she could no longer watch her party being "dogged" by controversy over donations she received.

Her announcement at John Smith House, Labour's HQ in Glasgow came two days after a committee of MSPs voted to suspend her for a day from the Scottish Parliament. She is the first party leader to suffer such a fate.

It followed a probe sparked by an SNP-led complaint about a dodgy donation from tax exile Paul Green for her leadership campaign.

Alexander said: "I want Scotland talking about the issues that matter, rather than the private complaints and personal attacks on me.

"We cannot afford do this to ourselves and to Scottish public life.

"I really don't believe the people of Scotland want a parliament that is talking about a complaint made by background staff whose bosses don't have the guts to do it themselves.

"I helped create this Scottish Parliament with Donald Dewar.

" It breaks my heart that the issues that matter to people are being sidelined."

She added: "Should someone who acted in good faith and acted on impartial advice be considered not fit for high office and be sanctioned for reasons of political point scoring?"

A friend said yesterday: "Being leader cost her a lot in terms of money. She had to fund a lot of her legal expenses herself and Brian works part-time. But it cost them a lot more in terms of personal life.

"She has her children and their future to consider. There is now more to Wendy's life than politics."

Alexander added: "Some may feel they have achieved a political victory but wiser heads will surely question, 'at what price?'"

She is the third Scottish leader to quit for breaking rules at Holyrood, following First Minister Henry McLeish and Tory David McLetchie.

She succeeded Jack McConnell, who stood down after Labour lost the Scottish Parliament elections.

Despite having no rivals for the leadership contest, her team raised pounds 17,000 for her campaign.

One donation was pounds 950 from Jersey-based tax exile Green. It was illegal because he wasn't a British citizen. Alexander later told a probe she had been told wrongly by clerks that it was unnecessary to register donations to her campaign But Holyrood's Standards Committee ruled she be suspended from Holyrood for one day.

Yesterday PM Gordon Brown said: "Her contribution - which has been outstanding over the years - will be greatly missed."

But Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "While Wendy Alexander has been author of her own misfortune, there can be no doubt that the information on her illegal campaign donation could only have come from within the inner circles of the Labour Party."

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: "Labour lurch from one crisis to another."

THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF ALEXANDER

1997: Tipped as a future Labour star, Alexander is appointed a special adviser to mentor Donald Dewar, a friend of her church minister dad.

1999: Elected MSP for Paisley North, at 36, with a 5113 majority. …