SNP want only women to battle to replace MSP Biagi

Audrey Birt. Picture: Greg Macvean
Audrey Birt. Picture: Greg Macvean
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SCOTTISH National Party activists in Edinburgh Central will have to choose a female candidate to replace departing MSP Marco Biagi at next year’s Holyrood elections.

The party’s national executive committee has ruled there should be an all-female shortlist when local members pick their standard-bearer for the election next May.

The procedure was adopted by the SNP conference in March as a way of improving gender balance

The constituency will be one of the first to follow the procedure, adopted by the SNP conference in March as a way of increasing the gender balance of the party’s group in the Scottish Parliament. Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi, who is also Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, announced last month he will not seek re-election next May as he plans to pursue an academic career.

Names mentioned so far as possible contenders to succeed Mr Biagi include city councillor Cathy Fullerton, former Lothian MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville and senior charity executive Audrey Birt.

It is now up to the local party to set a timetable and begin the selection, but it is understood a candidate is likely to be chosen by August. Cllr Fullerton represents Sighthill/Gorgie ward, which falls within the Central constituency. Long before being elected a councillor, she worked for the old Lothian Regional Council and then Edinburgh District Council, including a four-year spell in the office of then-Lord ­Provost Eric Milligan.

Ms Somerville was the SNP candidate in Edinburgh Central at the 2007 Holyrood election and although she failed to win the seat, she was elected as a Lothian list MSP for the next four years.

She failed to capture Edinburgh Northern & Leith in 2011 and lost her list seat because so many other constituencies fell to the SNP.

She later stood as the SNP candidate in the Dunfermline by-election in October 2013, which was won by Labour.

And she also played a leading role in the Yes campaign in the run-up to last year’s independence referendum.

A source said Ms Somerville might prefer to stand again in Dunfermline, but if she did go for Edinburgh Central she would be “one of the frontrunners”.

Ms Birt, a former nurse and healthcare manager, was director for Scotland of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the national director for Diabetes UK Scotland and is now a freelance consultant and coach, working with major third sector organisations in Scotland.

She joined the SNP after ­voting Yes in the referendum and her name was linked to several seats, including ­Edinburgh North & Leith, as a possible candidate for Westminster at the general election in May.

The seat is also likely to attract other would-be candidates from further afield.

The policy approved by conference was that in any seat where an incumbent SNP MSP decided to stand down, the party’s national executive committee could direct the constituency branch or association to draw up an all-women shortlist.

Currently, SNP male MSPs outnumber women by 47 to 17.

• ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com