Question time over all-female shortlist

The House of Commons at Westminster
The House of Commons at Westminster

One thing looks certain when local MP Lindsay Roy stands down ahead of the General Election in 2015.

The person chosen to try and succeed him as Labour’s MP for Glenrothes and Central Fife will be a woman.

The Labour Party’s national Executive committee (NEC) has controversially ruled that a female-only shortlist of prospective Parliamentary candidates will be drawn up when the defence of the seat begins in earnest.

This is at odds with the views of the Glenrothes Constituency Labour Party (CLP) – and Mr Roy himself – who wanted an open shortlist, consisting of male and female nominees drawn from the selection process, when it was asked recently to make a choice.

Party activists accepted the decision was made democratically and aimed at broader community representation, while trying to get more women into the corridors of Westminster.

But many in the CLP, which covers the Levenmouth and Glenrothes areas, regarded the executive stance as an affront to democracy, with Kennoway and Windgyates’ church minister among the most vocal critics.

The Rev Richard Baxter, a Labour Party member for over 30 years, said he would spoil his ballot paper if the candiate was chosen this way and he “hated the idea of the democractic process being undermined”.

Mr Roy held the seat at the 2010 General Election with a majority of 16,448 over the SNP and 62.34% of the vote.

He said: “I agree in principle we should be extending opportunities for women.”

However, he said he’d prefer an all-gender short list to keep the whole process open.

‘Wrong way to choose candidates’

Levenmouth Labour Party supporters in the Glenrothes CLP hope the national executive committee will reverse its decision over a female-only shortlist of possible candidates to replace Lindsay Roy.

Local activists, including Mr Roy himself, wanted an open list to increase the chances of the best possible candidate being selected.

Party supporters pointed to a great wealth of talent among their female colleagues in Fife.

Since the start of the Scottish Parliament, Christine May, Marilyn Livingstone, Cara Hilton and the late Helen Eadie had held constituency seats, while Claire Baker and Jayne Baxter occupied list seats.

Selecting candidates on their merits in this area worked, said activists – and there was a strong chance that an open list would yield a female candidate.

The Rev Richard Baxter, minister of Kennoway, Windygates and Balgonie: St Kenneth’s, and an active member of the Glenrothes CLP, said the decision was the wrong basis on which to elect a candidate.

“I am ashamed and embarrassed by the decision of the national executive to enforce an all-female shortlist against the unanimous wishes of local party members in Glenrothes,” he said.

“The local party wanted to consider all suitable candidates on an equal basis.

“No-one would accept a selection that excluded people on the basis of their race or their religion or their sexuality, so how can it be right to exclude people just because they are male?

“If the selection shortlist excludes 50 per cent of possible candidates on the basis of gender, I’ll spoil my ballot paper and encourage others to do the same. If the NEC does not change this decision, they may find they have a candidate but no local party to support them.”

No one from the Scottish Labour Party was available for comment as we went to press.