A former Labour MSP has accused his own party of “fixing” the selection process for candidates at the next general election.
Neil Findlay claims “ruthless” tactics are being deployed by bosses in Scotland and across the UK to block left-wing hopefuls from being chosen.
Speaking exclusively to The Stooshie, the politics podcast from DC Thomson, the former Lothian MSP, also alleged senior figures “at the highest level” of the party orchestrated a plot to undermine ex-leader Richard Leonard.
He pointed to the timing of the announcement of former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s participation in the popular TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! as one example.
The programme is famous for subjecting participants to gross-out challenges such as eating unusual animal parts.
But the claims have been dismissed outright by current boss Anas Sarwar, who said: “I don’t think Kez Dugdale decided to chew kangaroo penis as part of a conspiracy for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party.”
‘Fixing the rules’
The latest allegations come after we revealed Labour activists have written to UK leader Sir Keir Starmer demanding an investigation into claims of rigging in the race to fight disgraced MP Margaret Ferrier’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat.
Mr Findlay said: “What’s most depressing at the moment is that we’re seeing the Labour Party becoming more politically sectarian by the day.
“Blocking and deselecting candidates who they don’t like, fixing the rules, manipulating the voting system.
“When they can’t defeat people by legitimate means, then they resort to illegitimate means.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful what’s going on.”
Is it happening in Scotland?
Asked whether the same kind of approach is being used in Scotland, he laughed: “Oh, absolutely it is.
“The attacks I sat through week in, week out in the Scottish Parliament upon Richard Leonard. The undermining of him. The leaks to the press.
“The briefings, the lies, the manipulation and the situations to bring him down were followed up, when Anas Sarwar took over, by the party moving into a far more ruthless position.”
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The selection of candidates in Scotland is handled by the party’s Scottish executive committee, with separate groups handing selection in England and Wales.
Party activists in Rutherglen sent a letter to both Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer saying they had been “inundated” with complaints about the “lack of transparency and the lack of involvement of local members” in the selection process.
The leaders are under pressure to clarify who agreed the process, how members of the shortlisting panel were appointed, and to release minutes of meetings where the rules of the selection process were agreed.
Sarwar rejects claims
Mr Sarwar rejected any claims of a stitch-up and called on those focused on factional divisions within the party to “move on”.
He said: “In Scotland, all of our selection process is done in partnership with our trade union affiliates, with our constituency affiliates.
“We have a very collegiate approach around how we do our selection.
“There was of course the one issue where people were talking about the selection process for the by-election.
“That was an entirely different circumstance where the measure for a by-election candidate, understandably, is a very different approach from a candidate going into a wider general election.”
Is there a plot?
Asked if he was aware of any plot to block candidates, Mr Sarwar said: “I don’t recognise the suggestion and I think some people who continue to obsess about the factional divisions in the Scottish Labour party need to realise times have changed.
“There may be factional debates elsewhere. There is no factional debates in Scotland.
“We are all unified in delivering a Labour government, both across the UK and in Scotland.
“I think people who were involved in yesterday’s arguments should maybe move on.”
Ms Dugdale’s participation in the I’m A Celebrity jungle was announced the day before Richard Leonard was confirmed as Scottish Labour leader.
On the allegation it had been orchestrated to undermine Mr Leonard’s leadership, Mr Sarwar added: “I’ve heard lots of far-fetched conspiracy theories but I think that one takes the proverbial kangaroo biscuit.”