SNP pick Shirley-Anne Somerville for Dunfermline

Shirley-Anne Somerville works with the Yes Scotland campaign. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Shirley-Anne Somerville works with the Yes Scotland campaign. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Former Lothians MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville has been selected to stand for the SNP in the Dunfermline by-election next month, meaning both main parties will have women candidates.

Walker, convicted of 23 domestic abuse charges last month, submitted his resignation to the Scottish Parliament last weekend.

The 39-year-old, who works with the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign, was chosen by local activists last night to fight the seat after the resignation of Bill Walker following his wife beating convictions.

Ms Somerville was selected last night from a shortlist of two women, edging out Fife councillor Karen Marjoram.

But she faced immediate calls from her Labour rival to apologise for the SNP “ignoring” warnings about Walker’s abusive past before he stood for the party two years ago.

Campaigners had been calling for Labour and the SNP – the main contenders to win the seat – to adopt all-women candidate lists to send out a positive message in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding Walker.

Labour have already selected Cara Hilton from an all-women list at the weekend.

Ms Somerville, who was brought up in Kirkcaldy and lives with her family in North Queensferry, Fife, said last night: “Should I become be the new MSP for Dunfermline, I will vote to protect the people’s policies – the council tax freeze, free personal care for older citizens, no tuition fees for young Scots, free bus travel for the over-60s and no bridge tolls across the Forth. Labour, Tory and Lib Dems all voted against the budget which delivers these vital services people in Dunfermline need and value – therefore, only a vote for the SNP in the by-election guarantees the people’s policies.”

She pointed to weekend polling which showed there is “all to play for” in the independence referendum and which put SNP support at 45 per cent, the same level at which it won the Dunfermline seat in the landslide Holyrood election victory of 2011. She added: “I plan to speak to as many people in Dunfermline as possible over the next five weeks, and the SNP will be working extremely hard to win.”

The pressure on both main parties to select a woman mounted when Susan Dalgety, a one-time spokesman for former Labour first minister Lord

McConnell, and nationalist activist Kate Higgins called in The Scotsman for the political elite to make “a strong statement” about the place of women in politics and society by choosing female candidates.

Walker finally resigned his seat earlier this month after being convicted of 23 domestic abuse charges 16 days earlier. He was expelled from the SNP after the charges against him came to light, but the party has faced claims it did not do enough to investigate his past after it emerged a family member of one victim presented evidence of Walker’s abusive background to Nicola Sturgeon’s office.

Ms Hilton immediately called on her Nationalist rival to apologise for the Walker scandal.

“The only reason we’re having this by-election is because Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon ignored the warnings about Bill Walker’s history of domestic violence,” Ms Hilton said.

“They failed to act and decided to dump a now-convicted wife beater on the people of Dunfermline.

“Nicola Sturgeon has privately apologised to Rob Armstrong, who warned the SNP about Bill Walker, but that isn’t good enough. Shirley-Anne Somerville needs to publicly apologise to the people of Dunfermline for the SNP forcing Bill Walker on us.”

The Scottish Conservatives have chosen James Reekie as their candidate, with party leader Ruth Davidson insisting she was committed to picking the “best candidates in every constituency, irrespective of age, gender, race or sexuality”.

The Liberal Democrats are expected to announce their candidate soon. The by-election is being held on 24 October.