THE Scottish Executive yesterday breathed a collective sigh of relief after the rebellion by MSPs over Tony Blair's stance on Iraq was seen off.

The crucial anti-war motion by John McAllion, the left-winger now increasingly semi-detached from Labour, lost by just five votes. It left the SNP licking its wounds after losing a vote it might have won, but its strategists insisted the long-term losers will be Labour MSPs who will have to return to their constituencies and explain why they voted for a war not sanctioned by the UN.

One junior minister, Dr Elaine Murray, offered her resignation because she felt that she had to abstain on the main motion, while Malcolm Chis-holm, the health minister, gritted his teeth and backed the executive.

Six Labour MSPs voted for the motion, including Susan Deacon, the former health minister, while three abstained, including Gordon Jackson (Glasgow Govan).