LABOUR and the SNP are under pressure to adopt all-women shortlists to select candidates for the by-election to replace convicted wife-beater Bill Walker.
Writing in The Scotsman, Susan Dalgety, a former ministerial adviser to Jack McConnell, and pro-independence campaigner Kate Higgins urge the parties to “make a “strong statement about the place of women in our society” by choosing female candidates for the Dunfermline by-election.
Party chiefs have so far refused to select candidates from all-women lists, even though MSPs of both parties called for female candidates to be chosen.
Former Dunfermline Athletic manager Jim Leishman and ex-Edinburgh council leader Ewan Aitken could be among the high-profile Labour contenders as the parties pick their candidates in the next few days.
But Ms Dalgety and Ms Higgins say today that the parties could “send a powerful message” on domestic violence following the conviction of Walker who was found guilty last month of assaulting his three ex-wives.
The pair call on the parties to “forge a political system at Holyrood that resembles real life, not the back room of a rugby club”.
Holyrood’s Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, announced yesterday that the vote will take place on 24 October.
Labour has promoted all-women shortlists in the selection of its parliamentary candidates since the early 1990s, although the SNP, Tories and Lib Dems have resisted quotas for females. A Labour spokesman confirmed the selection on Sunday is “open to all interested members”.
An SNP spokeswoman said the party’s “open selection procedures are under way” and that a candidate would be chosen from a shortlist open to both men and women on Monday.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems have also resisted calls for all-women shortlists for the vote. However, Labour MSP Helen Eadie, who is a Fife representative, backed an all-women shortlist to boost female representation at Holyrood.
Mrs Eadie said: “By the time nominations close, I personally hope it will be a woman-only shortlist, but we have to leave it to the constituency party.”
There was also support from Labour MSP Elaine Smith, a Holyrood Deputy Presiding Officer. She said: “It’s always desirable to increase women’s representation in parliament and I’d be pleased if we chose a woman.”
SNP MSP Maureen Watt, a former schools minister, said: “I’m all for more women coming into the parliament, although it’s up to the constituency party to choose its candidate for the by-election. I hope they will bear in mind the gender balance of the parliament when the candidate selection is taking place.”
Labour MP Katy Clark said: “I’d love it if we had a woman candidate as we don’t have many women candidates in by-elections. All the main parties should choose a woman candidate as this would send a very powerful message after what happened with the last MSP.”
Labour is expected to be the main challenger in a marginal seat that will be a key measure of the party’s popularity under Johann Lamont’s leadership.
The party’s new General-Secretary Ian Price also lives in the constituency. Walker held it for the SNP with just 630 votes at the 2011 Holyrood election.
Former Dunfermline Athletic manager Mr Leishman, who is already Fife’s Lord Provost, confirmed he had been approached by Labour members about contesting the by-election for the party. The Labour supporter said he would make a decision on whether to contest the Labour nomination later today.
Another high-profile Labour figure Mr Aitken confirmed he will be among those interviewed by party officials before a shortlist goes before members on Sunday.
Michael Marra – a former senior aide to Labour leader Iain Gray – is also thought to be a contender.
Possible candidates for the SNP are thought to include former Lothians MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville, who now works for the pro-independence campaign Yes Scotland.
A Lib Dem spokeswoman said: “It will be for the local party membership to decide who will be the best voice to represent the people of Dunfermline. We expect an announcement will be made in the coming week.”
The Scottish Conservatives have already chosen James Reekie as their candidate.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “We are committed to picking the best candidates in every constituency, irrespective of age, gender, race or sexuality.”