Labour MSP ‘may quit Holyrood for Westminster’

ONE of the Labour leaders of the campaign against indep­endence is considering quitting Holyrood for Westminster.

Richard Baker MSP. Picture: Contributed
Richard Baker MSP. Picture: Contributed

Labour MSP Richard Baker, a director of Better Together, is understood to have expressed an interest in being selected as the party’s candidate for Aberdeen North – one of the party’s safest seats in Scotland.

Pro-independence campaign bosses last night claimed Baker’s interest in a Westminster seat was at odds with pledges from the main Unionist parties to hand more powers to Holyrood in the event of a No vote.

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Blair Jenkins, the leader of the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign, said Baker’s move would show that Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats were not serious about strengthening devolution.

Baker refused to rule out standing for Aberdeen North but said he would not discuss his plans until Labour’s UK ruling National Executive Committee decide how the selection process will be conducted for the constituency.

Labour’s UK NEC will meet on Tuesday to decide whether its candidate for the seat, where current MP Frank Doran is retiring at the next general election, will be chosen from an all-women shortlist or an open selection.

Doran, who was first elected as an MP in 1987 in the city, retained Aberdeen North for Labour in 2010 with a majority of 8,361.

The other Westminster seat in the city – Aberdeen South – is represented by Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who became an MP in 1997 after being selected from an all-women shortlist.

North East Scotland list MSP Baker, a former shadow minister, is understood to be one of the names in the frame and already has a strong power base in Aberdeen, with a constituency office in the city.

Baker is likely to win the backing of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, if he is allowed to put his name forward for the seat.

Unite is expected to be influential in the Aberdeen North selection, with the front-runners all members of the union, which was at the centre of a bitter row about the alleged manipulation of a Labour candidate selection in Falkirk.

Baker said: “I wouldn’t want to say anything. I’m not going to say anything. I’m not commenting at all. There’s nothing being decided about it until next week anyway.”

The SNP has repeatedly attacked Better Together, which is led by former Chancellor and Labour MP Alistair Darling, as a campaign dominated by Westminster politicians.

Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, claimed Baker’s interest in a Commons seat showed that the MSP did not expect significant additional devolution for Holyrood if Scots vote against independence.

He said: “It cannot fill anyone with any confidence that vague promises of further powers for the Scottish Parliament have any hope of being kept when a director of the No campaign is planning to leave the Scottish Parliament to continue his political career at Westminster – presumably because he believes that the key powers over the economy and welfare would continue to reside there if there was a No vote.

“Surely if the anti-independence parties were serious about strengthening the Scottish Parliament after a No vote, those making such pledges would want to be at the centre of power rather than in a remote and increasingly out-of-touch Westminster.”

Nationalist MSP Mark McDonald won Holyrood’s Aberdeen Donside seat in a by-election last June. McDonald said Baker’s interest in a move to Westminster was damaging to Better Together’s campaign plans.

He said: “With Labour continuing to trail the SNP in the polls after nearly seven years in opposition, Mr Baker’s plans expose the disarray and discontent that obviously exists within Labour’s Holyrood front bench and parliamentary group.”

Labour’s NEC meeting in London on Tuesday will decide whether a number of seats across the UK, including Aberdeen North, will be designated as all-women shortlists.

Others possible successors to Doran could include Aberdeen councillor Jenny Laing, the daughter of the late Scottish-born former Labour MP James Lamond.