LABOUR activists in a crucial battleground constituency have been forced to cancel their annual Burns Supper due to a lack of interest.
Deputy Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, local MP Sheila Gilmore and a shadow minister from Westminster were among the speakers lined up for the Edinburgh Eastern fundraising event on Saturday.
But after poor ticket sales, the local party executive decided to cancel the supper, promising refunds to those who had booked.
Former Edinburgh East Labour party chairman Paul Nolan said the event had been a popular fixture in the diary for many years and usually attracted up to 150 people.
But he said he understood fewer than 50 tickets had been sold and admitted the situation was embarrassing.
He said: “It is worrying that we can’t get members to come to a fundraising Burns Supper two or three months before an election.
“If we can’t get the activists motivated, it’s going to be even harder to get ordinary voters to turn out on polling day.”
Mr Nolan said last year’s Burns Supper had raised around £1000.
Edinburgh East will be a key constituency at the general election in May as Labour fights to stop a predicted advance by the SNP across Scotland.
Although once one of safest Labour seats in the Capital, it recorded the biggest Yes vote in Edinburgh in the independence referendum – 47 per cent – and has been represented at Holyrood by the SNP’s Kenny MacAskill since 2007.
Ms Gilmore had a majority of 9181 at the last election in 2010.
The Burns Supper, scheduled to be held at the EH15 Restaurant at Edinburgh College’s Milton Road campus, was initially advertised with the invitation: “Join Sheila Gilmore MP, Kezia Dugdale MSP, Ian Murray MP and Kate Green MP, to toast the immortal memory of Robert Burns, a fantastic traditional meal and entertainment.”
The notice added: “Tickets are £30 and selling fast.”
But now those hoping to attend the event have been sent a memo from the constituency party executive telling them: “Unfortunately the Edinburgh Eastern Burns Supper has had to be cancelled due to low ticket sales. All those that purchased tickets will be contacted and refunded.”
One political opponent said Labour activists’ lack of interest in a fundraising event so close to the general election was bad news for the party.
He said: “You sometimes wonder if the polls exaggerate Labour’s plight in Scotland.
“But it shows the dire state the party is in when something like this, where leading lights are due to speak, has to be cancelled because of lack of interest.
“It suggests that even in an election year, the party cannot enthuse its own members.
“And of course, it means they will have less money for what is a crucial campaign for them.”