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Politics: Labour braced for a dirty fight in Paisley South campaign

The Paisley South by-election began yesterday with a battle for the high ground over unemployment. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, predicts it will not be long before the dirt starts flying.

An aide to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, yesterday launched Labour's campaign to retain its seat in the Paisley South by-election by promoting a positive message about the Government's welfare-to-work programme.

Douglas Alexander, a 30-year-old lawyer who has acted as a speech writer to Mr Brown, is fighting the seat on the Government's record, and party sources said their by-election strategy was to fight on the issues.

But Labour Party strategists are also prepared for a dirty fight in the by-election which was caused by the death of Gordon McMaster, who left a suicide note accusing a fellow Labour MP, Tommy Graham - since suspended pending an inquiry - of running a smear campaign against him.

Mr Alexander made a pre-emptive strike to stop the other parties turning the by-election campaign into a public inquiry into allegations of corruption in the Labour Party in Scotland. On the eve of launching his campaign, he said he would accept no bad behaviour in the party, and gave his total backing to the National Executive Committee which had suspended councillors in Glasgow in another inquiry into "sleaze".

Alistair Darling, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was in Paisley South to support Mr Alexander, said Labour's campaign could not ignore the two inquiries in Glasgow and Renfrewshire which are going on while the by-election on 6 November is being fought. "We will address it as much as we see fit, but we shall fight this by-election on the Government's record and what can be done for Paisley South," he told party workers.

A party source said: "I know there will be efforts by the other parties to keep it on alleged sleaze but the problem they will have is that it has all been written up before. There will come a point when people will start asking them what are they going to do about the issues. There is no more to be written on the `filth' allegations. It is the subject of internal inquiries which are going on. We are going to fight on the issues."

However, William Hague, the Tory leader, made it clear at his party's conference last week in Blackpool that they will be seeking to turn the tables on Labour by campaigning against "Labour sleaze" in local government. The Tories are expected to use the by-election to raise the suspension of leading Labour councillors in Glasgow over allegations that they accepted free foreign trips at the ratepayers' expense in return for their votes.

There have also been unsubstantiated allegations of organised crime links with the Labour Party in Paisley. The Labour MP for the neighbouring Paisley North seat, Irene Adams, a close friend of Mr McMaster, has waged a war against drug dealers and has received death threats.

The Scottish National Party will be launching its campaign next week, and Labour is not being complacent about holding the seat, in which Mr McMaster had a majority of 12,750 at the general election, with a swing of 3.9 per cent from the SNP to Labour.

Meanwhile, Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, said he was delaying a decision on the site for the new Scottish Parliament.

He has faced intense lobbying on behalf of three locations, but he denied the delay means he is bowing to public pressure in favour of it being built at the rear of St Andrew's House, the Scottish Office building at Calton Hill in the centre of Edinburgh.