LABOUR is to share out its key target seats at the next Holyrood elections between male and female candidates in a bid to boost the number of women MSPs.
The top two dozen most winnable constituencies – including several in Edinburgh – will be split into pairs and local parties told to select one man and one woman.
Labour adopted a similar system when choosing its candidates for the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999, but it is only feasible for the next elections in 2016 because the party lost so many seats last time and has so few sitting constituency MSPs.
It is understood the pairings will link Edinburgh Central with Edinburgh Southern, where the front runners for selection are former Central MSP Sarah Boyack and city education convener Paul Godzik, who fought Southern last time.
Edinburgh Eastern will be paired with Midlothian North & Musselburgh in a contest which could in theory pitch Lothian list MSP Kezia Dugdale against former city council leader Ewan Aitken, who stood in Eastern last time. However, both would want to fight Eastern and Mr Aitken is said to be reluctant to go head-to-head with Ms Dugdale, who was his agent in the seat in 2011.
Friends say he is still keen to stand for Holyrood and they predict he will bid to become a candidate in some other seat.
Bernard Harkins, Labour’s candidate in Midlothian North & Musselburgh, is said to be interested in standing there again.
Linlithgow, where Labour’s Mary Mulligan lost last time, will be paired with Falkirk East.
Edinburgh Northern & Leith, where long-serving MSP Malcolm Chisholm plans to stand down, will not be involved in the pairing arrangement since it is a Labour-held seat, but it could have an all-women shortlist as part of the same drive to improve gender balance.
Edinburgh Pentlands and Edinburgh Western, seen as less promising seats for Labour, may be paired at a later stage.
Selections in the target constituencies are expected to get under way in August. Joint meetings of the paired local parties will select one male and one female candidate and the one with the highest vote gets to choose which seat to fight.
Labour has changed its rules to let candidates stand both for a constituency and on the list.