2021 Scottish Parliament elections: Labour row over male-female zipping on Lothian list

Foysol Choudhury would be the first ethnic minority MSP for LothianFoysol Choudhury would be the first ethnic minority MSP for Lothian
Foysol Choudhury would be the first ethnic minority MSP for Lothian
A Labour candidate in a promising position to get elected as an MSP from the Lothian list says he is not getting drawn into a party row about the gender-balance system which placed him above two women who won more votes in the internal selection process.

Foysol Choudhury is said to have won 63 votes in the ranking of list candidates compared with 343 for Maddy Kirkman, but Mr Choudhury was given the number three slot – just behind sitting MSPs Daniel Johnson and Sarah Boyack – because Labour's "zipping" system requires alternating male and female candidates.

The mechanism was introduced in a bid to help women get higher places than they might otherwise secure, but in this instance it promoted Mr Choudhury, who is chair of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council, from fifth place to third, overtaking not only Ms Kirkman, Labour candidate for Edinburgh Central, but also Kirsteen Sullivan, deputy leader of West Lothian Council, who also got more votes than he did.

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Ms Kirkman wrote an article for influential Labour website Labour List in which she said: “I won third place in Scottish Labour’s Lothian list selection. Given that I am a young, disabled, first-time woman candidate, and third place in Lothian is a winnable seat, this was a huge achievement. This could have been a success story for inclusivity within the Labour Party. But I was zipped from third to fourth, in favour of a man who came fifth – in the name of equity.”

She noted that another male candidate Nick Ward, who came sixth in terms of votes but was placed fifth by the zipping had offered to swap with Ms Sullivan since she had won more votes.

Ms Kirkman wrote: “It is currently the decision of the man placed third in Lothian, Foysol Choudhury, as to whether I can take the place that I won.”

But Mr Choudhury told the Evening News: "We are all following the party’s rules. We all signed up for the zipping system. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

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He said he had been targeted on social media. But he said: “I don’t want to get involved in any war with anyone. I’m happy with the way the party is dealing with the whole situation and I will leave it to the party.”

The list rankings are due to be approved by Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee this weekend, but insiders say they do not expect any bid to alter the ordering of the candidates.

One source said: “I can’t see how we could change the rules after the election has taken place in a way that disadvantages a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) man.”

Labour currently has three MSPs from Lothian – Daniel Johnson, Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay, who is stepping down. If Mr Choudhury is elected he will become the first ethnic minority MSP to represent Lothian.

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A Scottish Labour spokesperson said the party had used the zipping system since 1999. "Scottish Labour is committed to equal representation in the Scottish Parliament, and our team of constituency and list candidates in the 2021 election will reflect this objective - including with 50 per cent of regional lists led by women.”

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