Labour's Scottish hopefuls face stiff test of character

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The Independent Online
Labour candidates for the Scottish Parliament will undergo "searching scrutiny" before their names can go forward, Labour announced yesterday in the wake of the Paisley affair.

Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, was launching his party's pro-devolution campaign just hours after the suspension of a Labour MP who was found to have been involved in smearing the Paisley South MP Gordon McMaster. He committed suicide last month though the suspended MP, the West Renfrewshire member Tommy Graham, was cleared of any part in his death.

The new measures will be in line with proposals on Westminster selections which are to be discussed at the party's October conference. Mr Dewar, said Labour was determined to ensure high standards of debate and of personal behaviour.

He told a news conference that candidates would be vetted by "individuals of standing" who had no personal interest in becoming members of the Scottish Parliament. "The efforts of the vast majority of decent hard-working Labour Party members must not be undermined by conduct which has everything to do with narrow self-interest and nothing to do with the principles for which Labour stands," he said.

Mr Dewar admitted that the previous few days had been "bruising" and difficult. But they should not distract from the poll on 11 September.

"A new parliament will mean a new era in politics in Scotland. I am determined that the Labour Party will rise to the challenge," he added. "Out of the troubled and sad events of recent weeks, I am determined the party will emerge reformed and strengthened, and ready to help forge a new Scotland over the next 100 years."

Opinion polls in Scotland have indicated a majority of about 65 per cent in favour of the first referendum question, on whether there should be a Parliament, but only a narrow one of about 54 per cent on whether it should have tax-raising powers.

About 20 of the 56 Scottish MPs elected on 1 May were at the launch, but Mr Graham was not among them. Nor was Mohammed Sarwar, who was also suspended after being accused of trying to bribe an election rival.

Labour's news management appeared to have gone further awry last night when Peter Mandelson called for party unity just as it emerged that Clare Short had called his millennium dome "silly".

To make matters worse Mr Mandelson, who is in charge of the millennium project, was in Bolton visiting one of the companies building the dome.

In a newspaper article aimed at supporting his campaign for a seat on Labour's national executive, Mr Mandelson had written that the Government could only succeed through unity. "I have no time for infighting or introspection. I love my party, but I also want it to be modern, professional and well- organised," he wrote.

Unfortunately for him, another newspaper had just picked up on an interview given before the election by Ms Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, to a magazine run by Cafod, the Catholic aid charity.

When asked how she would like to celebrate the millennium, she had replied: "How much better than some silly, temporary building in Greenwich, is a commitment to work with other countries to eliminate abject hunger, which we could do."

At the time, Labour had not agreed to fund the dome, nor was Ms Short bound by the rule of collective responsibility which ensures that Cabinet ministers toe the line. Last night she issued a clarifying statement, saying: "As a member of the Cabinet I fully support the decision to go ahead with the millennium dome and I am sure it will be a great success."