SCOTTISH Labour's deputy leader has reneged on a high-profile pledge not to take an automatic slot at the top of his party's regional list at next year's Holyrood election, in a u-turn that effectively guarantees his re-election as an MSP.

Alex Rowley won the contest to become party number two in August after saying repeatedly during the campaign that he would refuse top slot on a regional list, which the deputy leader is entitled to automatically under new party rules.

However, the former Fife Council leader has had a substantial change of heart, saying he would take advantage of the list place after all after considering the need for stability.

HeraldScotland: Newly elected Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and deputy leader Alex Rowley

The SNP said the reversal showed that Mr Rowley was "running scared" of voters in his Cowdenbeath constituency, a former Labour heartland, while it also caused anger among allies of candidates who he defeated for the deputy leadership.

Under Holyrood's hybrid voting system, list seats are allocated through a system of proportional representation with constituency seats first-past-the-post. List seats are a far more likely route to Holyrood for Labour candidates, with polls indicating that the SNP are on course to win almost every constituency.

Mr Rowley beat Gordon Matheson by a margin of 11 per cent in the final round of voting, with the then-Glasgow Council leader dogged by claims that he was standing to seek an escape route out of the local authority - a theory given added weight by his admission that he would take the automatic list slot if he won.

It is also believed that within Mr Matheson's Glasgow powerbase, many were openly falling behind Mr Rowley's campaign to prevent his opponent securing top slot in his local region, meaning other regional candidates for Scotland's largest city would have been shunted down the list reducing their chances of election.

A source close to Mr Matheson's campaign said: "Gordon always knew Alex would do this. It was utterly transparent at the time. Gordon is not angry, he just feels sorry for the people who believed Alex and voted for him on that basis."

MSP Richard Baker, who also pledged not to take an automatic list seat after Mr Rowley's announcement put pressure on the other candidates, came third and subsequently announced that he would stand down from Holyrood.


Mr Rowley's reversal comes less than three months after he said seeking any regional seat would be "defeatist" and vowed to stake his career on retaining Cowdenbeath, which he won in a 2014 by-election. He will now have top slot for Labour in the mid-Scotland and Fife region, as well as standing in his constituency.

He said: "I have advised the Scottish General Secretary of the Labour Party that I will take up the place on the regional list that is available for the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party. I have done so after considering the changing circumstances within the Scottish Labour Party since I stood for deputy leader, when I said I would only stand in the constituency section.

"They key focus of my campaign for deputy leader was that I would bring about change through a more autonomous Scottish Labour Party that was more open and engaging with its membership, which most party members backed. In order to achieve this, the party needs stability within its leadership.

"Whilst I will continue to work hard in my constituency seat every day and fight to win the seat in May, I have concluded that in the interest of the stability of leadership that is needed to deliver the major changes promised and required within Scottish Labour, it is best that I also stand on the list."

The confirmation comes after it emerged at the weekend that Mr Rowley was considering a u-turn, after the issue was raised at a meeting of the party's national executive.

A spokesman for the SNP said Mr Rowley was "running scared" of Cowdenbeath voters, in a sign of the "dire straits" that Scottish Labour is in. He added: "For as long as Labour remains bitterly divided amongst itself on key issues, incapable of providing credible opposition to the Tories at Westminster and unable to set out any positive vision for Scotland, more and more voters in Fife and across Scotland will place their trust in the SNP."