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When a friend asks you to write a job reference, it can be embarrassing.

But when a political contact asked, I had no difficulty.

Words like "integrity", "strong sense of commitment", "communication skills", "team player" and "unrivalled knowledge of politics, industry and the arts in Scotland" just flowed.

I don't know if my contact has got the job. What I do know is, not entirely to my astonishment, that same person was one of those rejected for Labour's list of candidates for the Scottish Parliament.

Why wasn't I surprised? My friend, who had done well at the crucial interview stage, matter-of-factly supplied the answer: "I failed the New Labour loyalty test".

Oh, lucky Scotland. Our new Parliament is going to be stuffed with political paragons, the very creme-de-la-double-creme of public life in Scotland.

They must be - when you consider those who are not being allowed the chance to serve. We are assured they were all chosen purely on merit and that there has been no "ideological cull".

Yet the calibre of those left out in the cold means the mystification remains.

Setting aside the question of whether the selection process was a "stitch- up", which could be sour grapes by those left out, there are all-too- obvious questions.

How can MPs like Ian Davidson, who wrested Govan back from the SNP, and doughty Denis Canavan, who has fought all his political life for devolution, be good enough for Westminster but not for Holyrood?

How can Tommy Sheppard have been trusted with assistant general secretaryship of Scottish Labour, or Mark Lazarowicz with the party chairmanship and Edinburgh council leadership?

HOW could Murray Elder, former Scottish party secretary policy adviser to the late John Smith and now to Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar, now be out of favour?

The list of women frozen out is even more baffling, especially when the Labour Party is supposed to be making extra efforts to get more females into front- line politics.

Perhaps the most surprising omission is Esther Roberton, the co-ordinator of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which led to the Parliament.

She is a member of the Government's constitutional steering committee and will have a say in the future of local government in Scotland.

Others who have been spurned include Elizabeth Maginnis, Edinburgh's education convener and spokesperson on education for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Surely that experience alone would have been invaluable when the Parliament is debating such a vital subject?

Similarly, Anne Wallace is former education convener of Central Region.

Isobel Lindsay quit the SNP for Labour because of her devotion to devolution, chaired the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament and is a university lecturer in Scottish politics and gender politics.

Jean Freeman, first-ever woman president of the NUS in Scotland, is now chief executive of APEX, the prisoners' rehabilitation organisation.

Rosina McCrae was a member of Scottish Labour's national executive and has been a tireless campaigner for women's rights and against child abuse.

We know the quality of these men and women, whereas a large number of those on the official list are unknowns.

Others are not known for their commitment to the People's Party.

Richard Holloway, the off-beat Episcopalian Bishop of Edinburgh, is discovered to have been a member for years, but no-one remembers him knocking on doors or appearing on platforms for Labour.

Ditto Major Eric Joyce, who has galloped on to the list on the strength of speaking out about snobbery in the Army.

The geographical concentration of the approved list is also fuelling long-held fears that the Parliament will be dominated by Glasgow and Edinburgh.

More than 40 per cent of Labour's candidates, 67 out of 166, come from constituencies in the two cities.

Glasgow has 37, including eight from Kelvin, seven from Anniesland, and six from Govan.

Edinburgh's 33 includes six each from Edinburgh South and West and seven from Pentlands - including three from one family, Bill and Margaret McCulloch and their 24- year-old daughter Katie.

Yet there are nine reasonably safe Labour seats with NO approved candidates. Is there really such a concentration of talent in Glasgow and Edinburgh and so little in the rest of Scotland?

The end result will be that many constituency parties will be asked to work for the election of "outsiders", pre- selected primarily for their loyalty to the leadership - not to their locality.

WHAT happened to freedom of choice? Or freedom of speech?

If MSPs are not to be allowed to think for themselves, what good will they be?

New Labour claims its ruthless weeding-out has produced a team of all the talents, a true cross-section of Scottish society and the time-servers and party hacks must make way for a transfusion of much-needed fresh blood.

But it has backfired badly. Is it a sinister Blairite conspiracy - or a cock-up? It doesn't matter ...

The bitterness and back-stabbing only add to Scottish Labour's image as the party that seems hell-bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Brown, Tom
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 23, 1998
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