Andy Burnham: Reserve half of Scots seats for women
Following his announcement that he wants Scottish Labour to be “autonomous”, Mr Burnham – seen as the main challenger to leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership race – has written to the party’s sole MP and all its MSPs to start working up a strategy to win seats back from the SNP.
His intervention follows concerns voiced privately in the party that too many of the previous MPs in Scotland were “time servers” and “dead wood” who failed to keep activist networks going and allowed membership to wither locally, leaving a space for the Nationalists.
It is understood Mr Burnham wants the Scottish party to look at a range of selection options including reserving half of seats for women or holding a series of open primaries.
He is also keen they look at the A-list system used by the Tories to ensure high-calibre candidates, but he also wants a system that reflects diversity in Scotland in terms of gender, sexuality, race, backgrounds and professions.
The double intervention this week has made Mr Burnham the first of the UK leadership contenders to address the collapse in support in Scotland without proposing a breakaway party in Scotland.
It came as he trailed Jeremy Corbyn in constituency nominations in Scotland by 16 to 17 while rivals Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall received 14 and one respectively.
Mr Burnham hopes a new strategy dreamed up in Scotland can help win back ground in the 2020 election after the party lost 40 of its 41 Scottish seats in Scotland to the SNP in the election in May.
The letter seen by The Scotsman says he will task shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray and the new Scottish leader – a position being contested by Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh – to come up with a new selection system for the Scottish Westminster seats.
He hopes to take advantage of David Cameron’s plans to redraw boundaries which will leave Scotland with only 50 seats from the present 59.
He wrote: “During the current UK leadership contest I have said repeatedly that Labour can only recover if we are able to fight back in Scotland.
“It is obvious that in order to form a Labour government after the next UK general election, we must recover some of the seats we lost this year.”
He said Mr Cameron’s boundary reforms presented the party with “a once in a lifetime opportunity to select 50-plus parliamentary candidates for a single general election”.
He added: “I want the Scottish people to have every confidence that our candidates at that election are not only of the very highest standard but that they truly represent their nation.
“That’s why I am keen to hear fresh ideas and see a fresh approach to ensuring that Scotland genuinely has committed MPs serving her at Westminster.”
A source close to Mr Burnham said: “He wants the party in Scotland to use what is a historic opportunity to start with a completely clean slate, come up with a group of 50 candidates who are high calibre but also reflect the people in Scotland.
“So we want people from trade unions but we also want people with business backgrounds or professionals with a range of experiences.
“We also want the party to reflect the diversity of Scotland, so we want lots of women, we want people from different ethnic backgrounds and people who are openly gay.”
He added: “The last group of Scottish Labour MPs was not bad in terms of diversity. For example, we had an MP in a wheelchair [Dame Anne Begg] and a leading Muslim [Anas Sarwar] but we need to build on this.
“Andy is completely open-minded about how this done but the important thing is we do things differently.”
He added: “In the past there has been a culture of favoured sons and daughters getting seats which needs to end.”
Mr Burnham may be willing to follow the lead of the SNP after the referendum which allowed new members to become candidates. The source said: “He is open to people becoming candidates who have not been members for 12 months. What is important is that we have a strong group who represent the diversity of Scotland.”
Mr Burnham’s letter also confirmed plans to make Scottish Labour autonomous to reflect the realities of devolution within the UK.
He said: “If we are genuine of breaking out of the ‘Westminster bubble’ there can be no clearer demonstration of this in Scotland than by giving you, our members, control over the management of the party in Scotland.”