SCOTTISH Labour’s search for a replacement for Alistair Darling in his Edinburgh South West seat is being held up – so that the party can avoid the embarrassment of the whole process being controlled from London.
Selection of candidates for Westminster elections – including the decision on whether to require an all-women shortlist – falls within the remit of the UK Labour party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) rather than the Scottish Labour Executive.
But after former leader Johann Lamont’s claim that Westminster colleagues treat Scotland like a “branch office” there is increased sensitivity about who is in charge of the party’s affairs north of the Border.
Mr Darling announced last weekend that he will quit the Commons at next year’s general election after 27 years as an MP.
With just six months to go to the election, the local party in the former Chancellor’s constituency had hoped to have a new candidate in place by Christmas.
But Labour officials say the process of selecting a replacement for Mr Darling will not begin until after the current leadership contest is over on December 13.
A local party source said: “Because it’s a Westminster seat, it’s the NEC’s decision about when to press the button on the selection process – and whether it should be an open contest or an all-women shortlist. We had hoped to get a candidate in place before Christmas and would still be keen to do that.
“But if it’s postponed until after the leadership contest, it won’t happen until January.”
Ms Lamont’s attack on the UK party leadership was sparked by Ed Miliband’s decision to replace the Scottish Labour general secretary without consulting her.
But selection of Commons candidates in Scottish seats could be seen as another area of contention.
Leadership contender and bookmakers’ favourite Jim Murphy, the East Renfrewshire MP, has declared that if he wins, “no-one is going to push me around”, adding: “If I am the Scottish Labour Party leader, I am in charge.”
A senior Labour source said that because Mr Miliband’s hopes of winning power next year were so dependent on returning a large number of MPs from Scotland, the new leader of the Scottish party – whoever it is – would be able to demand almost anything.
The possibility has been aired of an all-women shortlist for Mr Darling’s seat, but as things stand, that decision would have to be made in London.
Long-serving Labour councillor Ricky Henderson and Foysol Choudhury, chair of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council, have already declared their interest in the seat.
Another councillor, Norma Austin Hart, said she was talking to friends, family and colleagues about throwing her hat into the ring.
The Edinburgh South West seat – which Mr Darling held with a majority of 8447 at the 2010 general election – is also expected to attract the interest of would-be candidates from beyond the Capital.
A Scottish Labour Party spokesman told the News: “No decision on the selection in Edinburgh South West has been taken or will be taken until after the completion of the leadership and deputy leadership contests.”