Setback for Scottish Labour bid to find fresh blood for Holyrood election

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Julie Bull
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Julie Bull
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Kezia Dugdale’s bid to inject fresh blood into Scottish Labour has suffered a major setback with just four new faces looking likely to make it to Holyrood in May.

The Scottish Labour leader’s drive for new talent failed to materialise when the party published the ranking of candidates for the forthcoming Scottish election.

Trade union officials Richard Leonard and Leah Franchetti plus councillors Monica Lennon and Colin Smyth are the only candidates new to parliamentary politics, who are likely to make it to the Scottish Parliament.

They will be joined by the former MPs Anas Sarwar and Thomas Docherty, who will make a return to frontline politics as a result of their high rankings on the list.

Despite the absence of an influx of new people and familiar names winning the battle for high rankings, Labour’s low standing in the polls also means a host of established parliamentarians face losing their seats including the long-serving MSP Michael MacMahon, the former deputy presiding officer Patricia Ferguson and the current deputy presiding Officer Elaine Smith.

Speculation that Neil Findlay, the left-winger who is close to Jeremy Corbyn, might be a victim of Labour’s selection process proved misguided.

Mr Findlay found himself near the top of the Lothian list in second place, just one place behind Ms Dugdale, who as leader was automatically placed number one in the ranking of candidates.

Although Mr Findlay looked home and dry, the surge of fellow-Corbynistas that those on the left wanted and the more moderate members feared did not come to pass.

Nor did the sort of transformation of the party that Ms Dugdale had promised after she was elected to replace Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader.

In speeches following her election, Ms Dugdale spoke of the importance of Labour recruiting individuals from all walks of life to the Scottish Parliament.

She said Labour needed doctors, nurses, hospital porters, shop-workers, cleaners, lawyers and office workers to challenge the Holyrood establishment.

Ms Dugdale said she was “delighted” with an “impressive list of candidates”, who would be fighting against SNP cuts to schools and public services.

She said: “At the start of this process I said I wanted to encourage as many people as possible to join our movement so we can change our country.

“I am absolutely delighted with the talented group of people who have been selected as Scottish Labour candidates.

“Every candidate on the list and in constituencies across the country will be fighting for every single vote.”

But Joan McAlpine, the SNP MSP, described the outcome of the selection process as a “disaster” for Ms Dugdale “whose ambition to have new candidates elected at May’s election has totally flopped”.

Ms McApline added: “It seems the same old faces have scooped the top spots – leaving the Scottish Labour leader with a near-impossible task of breathing some life into a party which has already lost nearly all credibility in the eyes of the Scottish public.

“The Labour party is fast running out of time to put forward any credible policies ahead of the Scottish Parliament election on 5 May – a challenge which will be even harder now that Kezia Dugdale’s been lumbered with the same old tired faces.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “Kezia Dugdale claimed she wanted to bring in fresh blood, but it’s clear from this that, after the next election, it’ll be same old Labour.”

Under the Scottish Parliament’s “Additional Member” voting system, each member of the electorate is given two votes. The first is to elect one MSP for one of Holyrood’s 73 constituencies.

The second vote is to determine the remaining 56 list seats. The make up of the list seats is determined by Scotland being divided into eight regions. Each region elects seven regional MSPs with each party allocated a number of additional members based on the size of their second vote.

Candidates are ranked by party members to decide who makes it to Holyrood.

As the polls stand, Labour looks as thought it will be virtually wiped out by the SNP in the constituency vote. Therefore the list rankings will play the crucial role when it comes to who succeeds.

The polls suggest that Labour should return the top three of their lists in all eight regions with an outside possibility of them returning four in the Glasgow and West Scotland areas.

Many candidates, who in the past would have been assured of constituency seats, were involved in the internal battle for the prime list positions.

Well known names such as former leaders Johann Lamont and Iain Gray have done enough to ensure their re-election by coming second on the Glasgow list and top of the South of Scotland list respectively.

The former interim leader Jackie Baillie has come out on top of the West Scotland list. The former deputy Scottish leader Mr Sarwar come top of the Glasgow list. While Mr Docherty looks secure coming third in the Mid Scotland and Fife list behind the current deputy leader Alex Rowley and the sitting MSP Claire Baker. One of the four potential new faces was top in the Central list with Mr Leonard, a political officer for GMB Scotland, voted number one.

In second place was Ms Lennon, a South Lanarkshire Councillor. Cllr Smith, a Labour representative on Dumfries and Galloway Council, made it into third place on the South of Scotland list. While Ms Franchetti, a primary school teacher who works for the teaching union EIS, made it to third place on the Highlands and Islands list.

Prominent casualties are likely to include sitting MSPs Mr MacMahon, his daughter Siobhan, Margaret McCulloch and John Pentland.

Patricia Ferguson is likely to lose out in Glasgow. As will Paul Martin, the son of the former Commons speaker Baron Martin of Springfield, Hamzala Malik and Anne McTaggart.

Well known names to miss out include the former football manager Jim Leishman.