TWO of the male front-runners to be Labour’s candidate in the by-election to replace convicted wife-beater Bill Walker have ruled themselves out of the contest, as pressure increases for a female candidate to be selected.
Former Dunfermline Athletic manager Jim Leishman told The Scotsman he had decided not to seek the Labour nomination after previously saying he was considering the move.
Michael Marra, a former aide to ex-Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, also revealed he had dropped his plans to be selected, saying the party’s candidate for the Dunfermline by-election “should be a woman”.
Senior figures within Labour last night called for a female candidate to be selected despite the refusal of the party hierarchy to adopt an all-women shortlist.
Labour frontbencher Jenny Marra backed selecting a woman to contest the by-election that was triggered after independent MSP Walker quit Holyrood following his conviction for assaulting his three ex-wives.
Ms Marra, a Labour MSP for the north-east, said: “We need to select a candidate who’s going to win and, set against the backdrop of what happened, it would be really good if we had a strong female candidate.”
Labour MSP Michael McMahon also called for a female candidate in Dunfermline as he said it was a “no-brainer in the circumstances” following Walker’s conviction.
He said: “We should do the right thing and select a woman and, given the circumstances, it’s hard to see how an all-women shortlist is not justified.”
The calls came after Susan Dalgety, a former ministerial adviser to Jack McConnell, and pro-independence campaigner Kate Higgins – both writing in The Scotsman – urged the main parties to “make a strong statement about the place of women in our society” by choosing female candidates for the by-election.
Mr Marra, the brother of Jenny, said: “After hearing Susan and Kate’s call, I thought there was an opportunity to say something stronger about what happened and that we should put someone in there who can do something about it.”
Labour will select its candidate on Sunday, when a final shortlist open to males and females will go before party members in the constituency.
Former Edinburgh Council leader Ewan Aitken, who is another Labour contender for the seat, insisted that he was “still standing”.
He said: “I respect the views of others and it’s a fair point, but the local party are the ones who will judge who wins.”
Mr Leishman said he “doesn’t feel ready” to contest the seat for Labour and wanted to focus on his role as Lord Provost in the town. However, he would not say whether a woman should be chosen as he said “the best person should win” the selection.
He added: “A lot of people said, ‘Go for it, Jim’ but I didn’t feel 100 per cent ready for the next step.”
Labour has refused to adopt an all-women shortlist for the by-election on 24 October, despite heavily promoting quotas for selecting parliamentary candidates over the past 20 years.
However, a leading trade union official from Fife and former MSP insisted Labour had to “send out a clear message” by selecting a woman candidate for the seat, which Walker won for the SNP in 2011 by just 590 votes.
John Park, strategy and policy director at the Community union, said: “A positive message has to go out after what happened with Bill Walker and the fact it was domestic abuse.”