LABOUR has selected former MSP Karen Whitefield as the party’s Falkirk candidate to replace the disgraced MP Eric Joyce at the next general election in 2015.
Ms Whitefield, 43, who lost her Airdrie and Shotts seat in the 2011 Holyrood election, was previously chairwoman of the education committee in the Scottish Parliament.
She won the selection to contest the Falkirk seat for Westminster from a shortlist of three women, beating Pam Duncan and Monica Lennon to replace Mr Joyce who was deselected and thrown out of the party following his conviction for a bar room brawl in the Commons.
The selection process to replace Mr Joyce was taken over centrally by the party after allegations that the Unite union was trying to rig the contest to favour one of its candidates in what is seen as a safe Labour seat.
There was further controversy after the only local candidate, Linda Gow, who was the whistleblower in the selection dispute with Unite, was not put on the final shortlist by the party.
The controversy also saw Stevie Deans, the Unite convener at Grangemouth, step down as Falkirk constituency chairman and resign from his job at the refinery after a dispute there was triggered when his activities were investigated by Ineos.
Speaking after her selection yesterday, Ms Whitefield conceded that the party will have to work hard to regain people’s trust following Mr Joyce’s crimes and the fraught selection process to replace him.
“I am delighted and greatly honoured to have been given the opportunity to work for the Labour party and serve the people of Falkirk in the run up to the general election and I hope they will put their trust in me,” she said.
“The next step is all about campaigning, getting on to the streets and into the communities and making sure that they understand what the Labour party stands for, that we care and can make a difference for them and will stand up for them.
“It’s not good enough that families are working hard but that work doesn’t pay, or that people have to make the choice between heating and eating, and I want to give those people a voice here in the constituency and at Westminster.
“This is the start of working hard to regain people’s trust. It’s time to move forward and look to the future.
“I think the party is in very good spirits tonight. I think this will unite us. We will look to the future, and be out there working hard to regain people’s trust, which they have given to us in the past, and to earn that trust for the future.”
Ms Whitefield said Labour can win the next general election through attacking Tory rewards for millionaires and its stance on payday lenders.
“I’ll be campaigning for a fairer and more just Scotland,” she said.
“I don’t think it is right that we have got a government that would rather reward millionaires than hard working families.
“I don’t think it is right that we have got a government that is more interested in protecting payday loan companies than regulating them.
“Those are the issues that I will be campaigning on, and I’m sure that the Labour Party will be campaigning with me too.
“If we campaign on those issues Labour will, and can, win the next general election.
“I’m going to be working extremely hard. Today I promised the Labour Party that if they put their trust in me that I will always put Falkirk first and that is exactly what I will try to do.”
Before the general election Labour must first face the challenge of the Scottish independence referendum, which threatens to make Ms Whitefield’s prospective tenure at Westminster very short.
The referendum will be held on 18 September 2014, about eight months before the expected date of the next UK general election in May 2015.
If Scotland votes yes, the Scottish Government expects to secure independence by March 2016.
Ms Whitefield said: “I’m going to be using every day between now and next September to make the case for Scotland staying within the UK, because that is in the interests of Scotland.
“It is what’s best for Scotland and the Labour vision for Scotland is so much better than anything that the nationalists can offer the people of Scotland.”The Tories pointed out that despite the controversy over Unite allegedly trying to fix the selection Labour had gone for another union candidate with Ms Whitefield a former campaigns officer for Usdaw.
Tory MP Priti Patel said: “Despite Ed Miliband promising to cut his links with his union paymasters, clearly nothing has changed as they parachute in another one of their chosen candidates.
“The unions continue to rig the selections, buy the policies and choose the leader and Miliband is too weak to stop them.
“If he can’t stand up to the unions, he’ll never be able to stand up for Britain on the world stage.”
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “Karen will be a fantastic candidate and a strong voice for the people of these communities at a time when they most need it.
“I look forward to campaigning with Karen and showing the people of Falkirk that Scottish Labour is the party that will stand up for them.”
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