Ian Swanson: Is Labour drifting further away from Edinburgh?

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As the new Scottish Labour leader rings the changes, Political Editor Ian Swanson asks if there has been a power shift west

THE departure of East Lothian MSP Iain Gray as Scottish Labour leader means the party’s three top posts are now held by Glasgow politicians. New leader Johann Lamont is MSP for Glasgow Pollok and her deputy Anas Sarwar MP for Glasgow Central, while Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran is MP for Glasgow East.

Labour insists the change of personnel is not a retreat to what used to be considered its west coast heartland or a shift of power, attention and resources to the other end of the M8.

For years, Edinburgh had Alistair Darling in Labour’s UK top team, but that ended with last year’s general election defeat and the former Chancellor’s decision to return to the backbenches.

Will the absence of an Edinburgh politician at the top of Scottish Labour result in a reduction in the Capital’s influence inside the party?

After the result of the leadership election was announced on Saturday, Ms Lamont and Mr Sarwar made their first official engagement a campaigning visit to Morningside where they joined local councillor Paul Godzik at a street stall and for some door-knocking. There is strong pressure for Labour to move its headquarters from Glasgow to Edinburgh. And Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack was the co-author with former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy of the post-election review to help reshape the party.

Labour lost many of its big hitters in May’s Scottish Parliament elections, some of them in seats where the party had never contemplated defeat. But as well as being beaten by the SNP in some of its former strongholds in and around Glasgow, Labour held on to only one constituency seat in the whole of the Lothian region, though it was given another three from the top-up list in compensation.

Ms Boyack is the only MSP from the Lothians named as a full member of Ms Lamont’s Shadow Cabinet, though MSP Kezia Dugdale has been handed the role of Shadow Youth Employment Minister and will attend Shadow Cabinet meetings.

Edinburgh North & Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm was not offered a job but says he would not have taken one anyway.

Ms Boyack, now the only member of the first Scottish Cabinet in 1999 still to be an MSP, acknowledges that looking at the top posts might allow a perception that the party is Glasgow-dominated. However, she says it is important to take a wider view.

Since being appointed Shadow Scottish Secretary in October, Margaret Curran has assembled “Team Scotland” – the Scottish politicians with shadow jobs at Westminster to emphasise the part they are playing at UK level. Among them are Edinburgh South’s Ian Murray, who is a shadow junior business minister, and Fiona O’Donnell, who is in the shadow environment team.

Ms Boyack says: “You have to look at the whole team – MPs and MSPs – and Edinburgh and the Lothians have a really good representation.”

In next year’s council elections, the SNP’s big aim is to take control of Glasgow. Labour will mount a fierce defence of what is its main citadel in Scottish local government. But that has sparked fear in some quarters that the party will devote all its attention to Glasgow and the bid to become the biggest party on Edinburgh City Council will be neglected as a result.

Ms Boyack, now Shadow Minister for Local Government and Planning, dismisses such fears. “We are already ahead of the game in Edinburgh,” she says. “We have all our candidates selected. We have listened and learned lessons from last year’s defeat. We have a draft set of ideas and we’ve started having meetings with key civic campaign groups.”

It may all be very different from the start of devolution when Donald Dewar plucked Ms Boyack and fellow city MSP Susan Deacon from the ranks of new politicians and put them straight into his Cabinet, with Edinburgh MSPs Iain Gray and Angus MacKay, Midlothian’s Rhona Brankin and East Lothian’s John Home Robertson as junior ministers. But Lothian’s reduced representation in Labour’s upper echelons reflects the party’s much-reduced number of MSPs in the area.

Malcolm Chisholm says there is “no danger” of Labour drifting away from Edinburgh. “Johann is a shrewd and intelligent woman,” he says. “She is not going to let that happen. The party needs to win in Scotland, not just Glasgow.”

KEZIA ‘CHUFFED’

LOTHIANS MSP Kezia Dugdale has been handed the task of spearheading Labour’s drive against Scotland’s growing problem of youth unemployment.

New Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has given her the post of Shadow Minister for Youth Employment.

Ms Dugdale – an MSP only since May – said she was “chuffed to bits”.

Figures last week showed unemployment among 16-24 year-olds in Scotland rose 27 per cent, from 89,000 in May-July to 113,000 in August-October – an increase of almost 2000 a week.

First Minister Alex Salmond appointed Almond Valley MSP Angela Constance as Minister for Youth Employment.

Ms Dugdale said: “I will be shadowing Angela Constance.”