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Labour suspends its party in East Lothian

The hugely successful local Labour Party which delivered Iain Gray the Holyrood leadership is in disarray after being suspended by the national executive in London for its resistance to keeping Anne Moffat as MP.

The hugely successful local Labour Party which delivered Iain Gray the Holyrood leadership is in disarray after being suspended by the national executive in London for its resistance to keeping Anne Moffat as MP.

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East Lothian is among the biggest and most wealthy constituency parties in Scotland and it was from its impressive club in Prestonpans that Iain Gray launched his leadership campaign this year.

But now the entire party has been suspended by Labour's national executive committee, prompting one local stalwart to tell The Herald: "This constituency party has been a jewel in the crown of the Labour movement.

"Now people are reeling from this decision. No-one knows what it means. Will they sack office bearers? Will they put their own people in? Who signs the cheques? Until now everything we have done in East Lothian has been utterly democratic. Now we're in uncharted territory.

"All because, in effect, the local party was insisting of freedom of speech."

The local party had wanted to open up the selection process so that Ms Moffat could face competition to continue as candidate.

Although the general membership of the constituency party voted in favour of this, Ms Moffat survived unchallenged on the strength of union votes, the validity of which have been vehemently contested locally.

It was for continuing to question this outcome that the local constituency party found itself suspended.

Iain Gray, restricted himself to saying: "This is a matter for the constituency Labour Party and the party at a national level. I am pleased that the national executive committee is seeking to resolve it and I hope that will happen quickly. My work as county MSP continues as usual."

But his aspiration that the NEC intervention could be a positive factor did not match the mood locally, where the relationship between constituency members and their MP has plumbed the depths.

Ms Moffat was elected as Anne Picking in 2001 amid claims that, as an official of Unison in London, the trade union had secured her nomination.

She then found herself in the headlines as one of the UK's most expensive MPs in terms of travel expenses, despite a constituency on the main east coast rail line and just around the Edinburgh ring road from the airport.

After her divorce, she reverted to her maiden name of Moffat, proclaiming her Fife mining pedigree as a way of rebuilding support in East Lothian, another former mining area.

Last year in the Commons she made an intemperate attack on proportional voting in which she compared Alex Salmond to Hitler. In May this year she reported being attacked and robbed by local youths near her home, but no arrests were made.

SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP said: "This is humiliating for Iain Gray. Labour has finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in Scottish politics. Iain Gray is London Labour's man.

"Since Jim Murphy took over at the Scotland Office Iain Gray will have got used to taking his orders from London - now his constituency party is being run from there too."

SNP Candidate for East Lothian Andrew Sharp said: "They are in chaos. This selection process has been torrid from start to finish. Instead of fighting amongst themselves East Lothian Labour should join the SNP in fighting for a fairer future for Scotland and East Lothian."

Michael Veitch, Scottish Conservative candidate for East Lothian, said: "The East Lothian Labour Party, which has been in a state of perpetual crisis, has now finally imploded ... it is also a huge embarrassment for Anne Moffat and indeed Iain Gray."

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