Alistair Darling’s decision to stand down as MP for Edinburgh South West has triggered an immediate battle for the seat inside the Labour Party.
Long-serving councillor Ricky Henderson was the first to declare his interest in taking over from the former chancellor as Labour candidate at next year’s general election.
He has been a councillor in the area for the past 15 years – representing first the Parkhead ward and now the multi-member Pentland Hills ward. He also stood for Labour in the equivalent Holyrood constituency, Edinburgh Pentlands, at the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections.
But his hopes could be dashed if the party rules there should be an all-women shortlist for the constituency.
Fellow city councillor Norma Austin Hart said she was talking to family, friends and colleagues about the possibility of throwing her hat in the ring.
The Edinburgh South West seat stretches from Gorgie and Dalry to Currie and Balerno, taking in Broomhouse, Oxgangs, Firrhill, Craiglockhart, Colinton, Sighthill, Wester Hailes and Juniper Green on the way.
Cllr Henderson, who is convener of the city’s health, social care and housing committee, confirmed he was interested in the seat.
He said: “I’ve lived, worked and brought up my family in this part of the city over the past 35 years and I’ve been a councillor here for more than 15 years. I have a track record of campaigning in the area.”
He increased the Labour vote by 8.5 per cent in the last council elections and also increased it at the 2011 Holyrood election.
Cllr Austin Hart said she was discussing the possibility of running. She said: “Alistair has obviously decided this is the right time to step down, which clears the way for the future and for a candidate to be put in place.”
She praised Mr Darling’s 27 years as a city MP, which included three years as chancellor and the past two years leading the Better Together campaign against independence.
“He will be a hard act to follow,” she said.
Cllr Austin Hart represents Liberton/Gilmerton ward on the city council, which is not in Edinburgh South West, but she lives in the constituency, in Craiglockhart.
She said: “I’m mindful of the fact that out of Edinburgh’s five constituencies, only one is represented by a woman. Labour has a commitment to gender equality in its selections so I would welcome an all-women shortlist, but it wouldn’t put me off if it was not, should I decide to go for it.”
The seat is also expected to attract interest from outside the Capital, though local candidates traditionally start at an advantage.
Mr Darling had a majority of 8447 over the Tories at the 2010 election.
TWO-HORSE RACE FOR DEPUTY POSITION
LOTHIAN Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale faces a straight fight for the Scottish Labour deputy leadership with left-wing Ayrshire MP Katy Clark.
When nominations closed yesterday, they were the only two candidates. Ms Dugdale’s supporters include Alistair Darling, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray and Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm, who described her as a “superb communicator” and “the most dedicated and committed campaigner I have ever come across”.
Political career of 30 years
THE announcement that Alistair Darling is to quit the Commons next year brings down the curtain on a long political career dating back to 1982, when he was first elected as a councillor on Lothian Region.
He backed moves to defy the rate cap imposed by Margaret Thatcher and served as transport convener before being elected MP for Edinburgh Central in 1987.
He held a series of shadow cabinet posts and went straight into the Cabinet after the 1997 Labour landslide as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
He also had spells in charge of welfare, transport and industry as well as Scotland and succeeded Gordon Brown as Chancellor in 2007, just in time for the world’s biggest banking crisis.