Gay rights supporter Jack McConnell’s Malawi job postponed

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Former First Minister of Scotland Jack McConnell has been appointed an envoy to countries recovering from conflict.

The Prime Minister’s decision to create the part-time role means that Mr McConnell will retain his seat in the Scottish Parliament, avoiding the need for a by-election.

He was due take up post as High Commissioner to Malawi next year.

That appointment is “on hold” as he takes up his new role, which will be partially based at the Foreign Office.

His support for gay rights in office led Malawi’s nacsent gay rights movement to claim he will to support their cause as the UK’s representative in the former African colony.

Labour face defeat in a Westminster by-election in the Scottish seat of Glenrothes on November 6th.

It is thought that the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint Baroness Ashton to replace Peter Mandelson as the UK’s European Union Commissioner, a post long rumoured to be coveted by Geoff Hoon, was to avoid a by-election in Mr Hoon’s constituency.

The reshuffle of the government, which saw the surprise return of Peter Mandelson to UK politics as Business Secretary, has been completed but not all details about changes in the lower ranks of ministers have been revealed.

Mr McConnell was the longest-serving First Minister of Scotland to date, from November 2001 to May 2007.

The announcement of his appointment as High Commissioner to Malawi last year caused some controversy in the country.

In August 2007 the head of the main opposition party in Malawi – the United Democratic Front – said his support for the repeal of Section 28 and civil unions meant he was an unsuitable person to act on behalf of the country.

“To have a man who supports gay rights to come to Malawi is dangerous for us,” Friday Jumbe said.

“He can easily use his influence as High Commissioner to force legislation and that’s my biggest fear.

“I don’t want him and I know I am speaking for my party and many legislators that we cannot allow such a person in Malawi.”

His appointment as British High Commissioner angered civil servant unions who complained to Gordon Brown that the post should have been decided in an open competition.

High Commissioners are the senior diplomats in charge of the diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth government to another.

Under the Labour government a number of posts have been filled by retiring politicians.

Former Cabinet minister Paul Boateng is the High Commissioner to South Africa.

Former Secretary of State for Scotland Helen Liddell is British High Commissioner to Australia.

The Malawi Gay Rights Movement (Magrim), which was launched last monrh as a public campaign group after six years underground, reignited the row around the appointment of the former Scottish leader.

The group claimed Mr McConnell will support their cause.

“We are anxiously waiting for the arrival of Jack McConnell,” a Magrim spokesperson said last week.

“He supports gay rights and we believe he will use his influence as High Commissioner as well as his close working relationship with President Bingu wa Mutharika to put in place friendly legislation for homosexuality.”

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Malawi, punishable by hard labour.

Magrim claims there is an “active population” of 89,000 gays and lesbians in the country. It is inclear if the current High Commissioner will remain in post.