Sunday, 23 November 2008

The East Lothian Question

The little local difficulty Labour is experiencing in East Lothian takes me back to the good old days when there seemed to be a similar problem in one Scottish CLP or another every other month. The Labour machine always sorted things out in the end with little or no electoral damage.

That was then. The context in which the East Lothian CLP crisis is being played out is rather different and represents a real test for Labour (Scottish and British parties alike).

For one thing, although things may look a little brighter post-Glenrothes, Labour is damaged goods in way it has never been before. Any difficulty reinforces this and cannot be dismissed as a side-show or a spot of local bother in the way it could have been before.

Secondly, there is a definite Scottish v UK angle to this one. The leader of the Labour Group at Holyrood, Iain Gray, is MSP for East Lothian and could therefore do without any internal unrest in the area and could do with keeping in with the local membership.

That particular bridge has already been burned by Anne Moffat, the MP for the area, and she is therefore relying on NEC intervention to prevent her possible deselection by the same local membership.

From my perspective, it seems a no-brainer. The NEC should not intervene and leave Anne Moffat facing the people she should be accountable to. In the process, the NEC would be seen to back the local members and, implicitly, the leader of the Labour Group at Holyrood.

But, should the NEC ride to Anne Moffat's rescue, what message would that send out? To me it would confirm that the status of a backbench, going nowhere fast Westminster MP is more important to the UK Labour Party than its leader in the Scottish Parliament.

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