Scotland politics

Douglas Alexander seat selection claims 'ludicrous'

Jim Sheridan and Douglas Alexander
The seats represented by Jim Sheridan [left] and Douglas Alexander faced being merged

Claims of a bid to oust Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander as part of a redrawing of constituency boundaries have been dismissed as "ludicrous".

It follows reports that the Unite union was working to promote fellow MP Jim Sheridan in a shake-up of seats.

The Westminster boundary change plans were eventually dropped late in 2012.

Labour MSP Mary Fee said the issue of the Paisley constituencies was completely different to candidate selection investigations in Falkirk.

The boundary plans would have seen Mr Alexander's constituency, Paisley and Renfrewshire South, merged with Paisley and Renfrewshire North, held by Mr Sheridan, who chairs the Unite Parliamentary Group.

Speaking to BBC Scotland's Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Ms Fee said questions over who would have been selected to contest the new seat were a completely different issue from Falkirk.

The Unite union is accused of signing up its members to the Labour Party in Falkirk, some without their knowledge, in an effort to get its preferred candidate selected to succeed MP Eric Joyce in 2015.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey denies that people were recruited without knowing about it, and says Unite worked within the rules in Falkirk.

Ms Fee said suggestions of a bid to target Mr Alexander in Paisley were "ludicrous".

She said: "You cannot compare the situation in Paisley to the situation in Falkirk, they are entirely different.

"Cleary Paisley could have suffered with the boundary changes, the boundary changes did not go ahead, and MPs would have been up against each other had they gone ahead, but the situation is completely different.

"And it is only natural that when there is a selection process that people will come in and join the party but the key thing is that we get the best possible people standing in seats."

Falkirk 'one-off'

Meanwhile, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman also played down suggestions that problems went wider than Falkirk.

She told the BBC: "If you look at the figures which we have done, that Falkirk is definitely the first time that there had been an attempt at mass recruitment of membership and irregularities.

"Most of the 'union join' membership joins were just one per constituency ... this is the one where there's been a problem. The scheme was open to abuse, it was abused in Falkirk."

She added: "The ones that have already had selections, we are not concerned that the scheme was abused because you only have to look at the numbers to be clear that's the case."

Ms Harman said there would be a "significant change" in Labour's relationship with the unions as new rules would be brought in to cap spending by prospective parliamentary candidates - and also for MPs running for party positions.

First Minister Alex Salmond has urged Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to "break her silence" in the row over the selection of an election candidate in Falkirk.

Mr Salmond said: "Johann Lamont has stood by silent and immobilised while Labour have imploded in Falkirk. It has exposed the total pretence that she leads Labour in Scotland."

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