01 August 2008
The beleaguered Scottish Labour Party has begun the process of electing a new leader, who will have the formidable task of rebuilding the party in the wake of its humiliating defeat in the Glasgow East by-election.
Three candidates, Cathy Jamieson, Iain Gray and Andy Kerr – all MSPs and former ministers at Holyrood – this week declared their intention to stand in the contest. Former Glasgow City Council leader Charles Gordon also indicated that he would put his name forward.
The post became vacant with the shock resignation of Wendy Alexander after she was banned from the Scottish Parliament for one day over her failure to declare donations on her MSP register of interests. Her announcement on June 28 coincided with the resignation on health grounds of Glasgow East MP David Marshall, precipitating the by-election.
Labour's disastrous defeat on July 24 to the Scottish National Party – by a majority of 365 votes – put further pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
In the previously 'safe' Labour seat, SNP candidate John Mason defeated Holyrood MSP Margaret Curran, overturning a majority of 13,500 on a 22% swing to the nationalists.
Scottish Labour, which delayed the leadership vote until after the by-election, is hoping that the contest will shift the focus to Labour and help to breathe new life into the party.
Jamieson, who has resigned as deputy leader to stand for the leadership, called for a return to the 'Labour agenda' when she launched her campaign on July 29. She added: 'We need to reconnect with the people in the communities who have, for whatever reason, lost faith with us. We also have to see that, frankly, as Labour's problem.'
Gray, former enterprise minister and the finance spokesman in Wendy Alexander's shadow Cabinet, said Labour must 're-establish trust with the voters'. Kerr, Labour's public services spokesman, said he wanted the Scottish leader to have a 'stronger voice' that was not focused only on the Scottish Parliament.
For the first time, the ballot for the election of leader will involve the entire party – MEPs, MPs, MSPs, party members and affiliates such as unions. The result will be announced on September 13.