Robbie Dinwoodie: Is Labour trying to defend the indefensible?

Wendy Alexander will not quit as Scottish Labour leader, even if election watchdogs decide to call in the police over the illegal donation to her leadership campaign, one of her closest advisers claimed yesterday.

Jackie Baillie, Labour's Shadow Minister for Parliamentary Business at Holyrood, insisted Ms Alexander would not follow the example of Peter Hain.

He stood down as Work and Pensions Secretary on Thursday after the Electoral Commission asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate his failure to declare £103,000 in donations to his deputy leadership campaign.

Ms Baillie said Ms Alexander would "stay on and fight for her reputation" even if the Electoral Commission decides she has broken the law.

Mr Hain's resignation increased the pressure on Ms Alexander, who is awaiting the outcome of the commission's investigation into a £950 donation to her campaign fund from the Jersey-based billionaire Paul Green. As a non-UK resident, Mr Green is barred from making any political donations.

Ms Alexander has admitted her campaign team broke the law, but has insisted she is not guilty of any "intentional wrongdoing".

During an interview on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday, Ms Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, said Mr Hain's situation was "on a completely different scale" from Ms Alexander's.

She said: "Peter Hain has decided he wants to leave and that is his choice.

"Wendy has made it perfectly clear she did not want to resign because doing so, in her eyes, would be to walk away from her reputation - which nobody denies - for honesty and integrity.

"The decision at the end of the day must be hers. But if the Electoral Commission judge that there has been intentional wrongdoing, by either Wendy or one of her campaign team, I would have thought she had even more reason to stay on and fight for her reputation.

"I would sincerely hope that she didn't resign because, frankly, Wendy has been getting on with the job she was elected to do and I think she should be given the opportunity to do so."

However, SNP MSP Roseanna Cunningham accused Ms Baillie of either "extreme bluster or increasing arrogance".

She said: "Jackie Baillie claims that even if Wendy Alexander is found guilty she should stay in office. Ms Alexander's dodgy donation may not be as large as Peter Hain's but it was, by Labour's own admission, illegal.

"Peter Hain's resignation has clearly increased the pressure on Wendy Alexander. Surely it is inconceivable that, if found guilty, Ms Alexander would think it acceptable to stay on as leader of the opposition. Perhaps Labour in Scotland genuinely do consider themselves to be above the law."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made his first public comments since Mr Hain's resignation yesterday and denied claims that he had "dithered" by failing to sack his minister. He said: "I always said - and I think this is the right thing to do - that we would wait until the Electoral Commission itself reported.

"They had the facts, they were looking at them, they have made their judgment and now we get on with business."

Mr Hain's successor as Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, yesterday insisted his predecessor would clear his name, while the man who replaced him as Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy, said he hoped to see him back on the political frontline once the police investigation is concluded.

The investigation into Mr Hain's funding is being led by Acting Commander Nigel Mawer, who is already conducting an inquiry into alleged "proxy donations" to Labour.

He is expected to focus on the channelling of around £50,000 to Mr Hain's deputy leadership campaign fund through the Progressive Policy Forum think-tank.

Hain was a good minister, says Abrahams
THE man who sparked Labour's proxy donations woes said last night that it was "very sad" that Peter Hain had been forced to resign.

Property developer David Abrahams, who channelled more than £600,000 to the party through intermediaries, insisted Mr Hain had been a "good minister".

Mr Abrahams was attending a speech by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in central London.

Asked after the event whether he thought the former Work and Pensions Secretary should have resigned, Mr Abrahams replied: "It's sad, actually, very sad. I think he was a good minister."

Mr Abrahams refused to comment on whether he had been interviewed by police probing the separate issue of proxy donations to Labour - which have been described by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as "unlawful". Mr Hain quit on Thursday after the Electoral Commission called in Scotland Yard to investigate his failure to disclose some £103,000 in donations to his abortive deputy Labour leadership bid.

Questions over the administration of the Cabinet minister's campaign emerged in the aftermath of revelations over Mr Abrahams's donations.