BATTLE is about to commence among 13 Labour hopefuls bidding for top places on the party’s Lothian list for next year’s Holyrood elections.
Opinion polls suggest Labour will struggle to win any constituency seats in the face of another forecast SNP landslide, leaving the regional lists as the best route to becoming an MSP.
Labour currently has three out of the seven list MSPs in Lothian – Sarah Boyack, Kezia Dugdale and Neil Findlay. They are all standing again on the list as well as fighting individual constituencies.
As party leader, Ms Dugdale is guaranteed the number one slot, but Ms Boyack and Mr Findlay must fight it out with other candidates for the crucial second and third positions in a ballot of all party members across Lothian.
Among the challengers are businessman Daniel Johnson, candidate in Edinburgh Southern, and lawyer Cat Headley, candidate in Edinburgh Western, both seen as rising stars; and former Lord Provost Lesley Hinds, who is candidate in Edinburgh Northern & Leith.
In a bid to ensure gender balance, the list will be “zipped” with alternating male and female candidates.
Ms Dugdale gets the top slot automatically, but second place will go to whichever candidate gets most votes – male or female – and the rest will alternate after that.
The ballot opens on January 4 and closes on February 1.
A Labour source said the party was confident of having three MSPs elected from the list once more – and could even get four if it fails to hold Edinburgh Northern & Leith, where Malcolm Chisholm is retiring, and Mr Johnson does not win Edinburgh Southern – the Holyrood seat based on Labour’s only remaining Scottish Westminster seat.
There is added uncertainty over how Lothian’s list seats will be shared out because of the death last year of Independent Margo MacDonald, who took a large slice of list votes last time.
In Labour’s internal ballot for the list rankings, Ms Boyack is tipped to do well because of strong grassroots backing. Mr Findlay is expected to have a lot of union support. And Mr Johnson has the advantage of belonging to the local party with the largest membership.
The party source said: “It’s Sarah versus Neil for second slot and Neil versus Daniel for the top male slot, then Cat versus Lesley for the next female slot.”
Other hopefuls bidding for a place on the list include Ann Henderson, assistant secretary of the STUC, who was number four last time; Bernard Harkins, candidate in Midlothian North & Musselburgh; and controversial former city councillor Shami Khan, who was cleared by the Standards Commission in 2007 for allegedly branding Lothian and Borders Police “institutionally racist” after a family member was arrested outside a nightclub. He was later appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Edinburgh to represent the Queen.