Ed Miliband forgets Scottish candidate's name

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Labour party managers were trying last night to play down an embarrassing gaffe by Ed Miliband, after he failed to remember the names of a challenger for the Labour leadership in Scotland during a television interview.

Senior Labour sources insisted afterwards that the UK Labour leader was "only human" and that everyone was liable to make the occasional slip-up occasionally, particularly those doing dozens of back-to-back interviews.

But there was increasing concern among some Labour figures that Mr Miliband's mistake showed a deep level of disinterest about Scotland. There is also a fear within Labour that this blind spot could cause significant damage to the party if it does not give sufficient thought and attention to the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence, when the new Scottish Labour leader will have to go head to head with Alex Salmond to save the Union.

Mr Miliband made the mistake in an interview with BBC Scotland about the leadership contest to replace Iain Gray, who stands down later this year. There are three challengers for Mr Gray's job: Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, Johann Lamont, MSP for Glasgow Pollok and Ken Macintosh, MSP for Eastwood. When asked to name the candidates, Mr Miliband replied: "There is Tom Harris. Um, er, there is Johann Lamont, er, and a third candidate who is also going to be putting himself forward."

The BBC's Tim Reid then said: "He is the frontrunner. Ken Macintosh." Mr Miliband replied: "Ken Macintosh, yes." Mr Reid added: "He is the frontrunner and you can't name him." Mr Miliband replied: "No, look, Ken Macintosh is going to be an excellent candidate." Mr Macintosh later tried to play down Mr Miliband's mistake: "I don't think anyone should read anything into it – half the time I can't even remember the names of my own kids."

But that was not how others in the party saw Mr Miliband's interview. There has been a growing feeling for some time within sections of the parliamentary parties, both at Westminster and at Holyrood, that the UK Labour leadership has "taken its eye off the ball" in Scotland.

The worry is that if Mr Miliband doesn't even know the name of the frontrunner in the contest, it doesn't show much about the UK leadership's interest in the future of the Scottish party or, by extension, the Union itself.

There has also been the refusal of the party's so-called Scottish "big hitters" – shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy and shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander – to put themselves forward for the Scottish leadership.

This has added to the impression that Holyrood is seen as a political backwater for senior Scottish Labour figures. If they, and their high-profile Westminster predecessors like Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown, see Holyrood as a second-rate option, there is a sense that that attitude prevails in the London-based party.