SPECULATION is mounting that former Labour cabinet minister Douglas Alexander is interested in standing as the party's candidate in East Lothian at the next general election.

Mr Alexander dramatically lost his Paisley and Renfrewshire seat in 2015 to the SNP's Mhairi Black when Labour was left with just a single MP in Scotland. Ms Black was elected deputy leader of the SNP Westminster group last week.

Labour opened its process for candidate selection for East Lothian yesterday with an aide to Labour MP Ian Murray Katherine Sangster and a senior activist and communications specialist Gregor Poynton also said to be considering putting their names forward.

The constituency is currently held by Alba's Kenny MacAskill, who was elected in 2019 for the SNP, and is likely to be one of Labour's top target seats north of the border and could provide a route back to Westminster for Mr Alexander.

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"The applications for East Lothian have just opened and closes next Monday at 12pm," one senior Labour insider told The Herald.

"So it should be known at the end of the week who the prospective candidates are. I have heard from lots of people that Douglas is interested.

"I do know that there are a number of other people interested too, Kath Sangster for one and another is Gregor Poynton."

The insider added: "It is a very winnable seat. I don't want to take sides [on the possible candidates]. We just need the best candidate.

"To some extent people with name recognition are easier but then other people I've mentioned, their name recognition within the constituency is very high."

Reports of Mr Alexander's interest in standing first surfaced at the beginning of the month.

East Lothian was held by Labour until 2015, when it went to the SNP before Labour took it back in 2017. 

Mr MacAskill, won the seat for the SNP again in 2019, ousting Labour's Martin Whitfield.

The Herald: Scottish Labour are targeting Alba depute leader Kenny MacAskill's East Lothian seat which he won for the SNP in 2019Scottish Labour are targeting Alba depute leader Kenny MacAskill's East Lothian seat which he won for the SNP in 2019 (Image: Newsquest)

With Labour’s improved poll ratings, the seat is seen as a good prospect for the party, but if Mr MacAskill stands again the pro-independence vote could be split between him and the SNP, making it easier for Labour to win.

The Edinburgh Evening News reported earlier this month that there are said to be mixed feelings about the prospect of Mr Alexander as Labour's candidate. 

One Labour source told the paper: "Some folk are saying he's had his turn and it's time for a fresh face. They argue Labour needs a new, younger generation of MPs. And they're wondering why Douglas isn't going after one of the Paisley seats, where he has connections."

Another was more positive. "He would have to convince people he was keen to represent East Lothian and not just find a winnable seat. He's not local, but he brings a lot of experience and ability to it."

Mr Alexander – brother of former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander – was elected MP for Paisley South in 1997 and served as Labour's campaign co-ordinator at the 2001 general election before getting his first ministerial role in charge of e-commerce.

He later served as Transport and Scottish Secretary and then International Development Secretary.

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Since losing his seat he has had a number of different roles, from advising U2 singer Bono on tackling global poverty to lecturing at Harvard University in the US and making several radio programmes for the BBC. He was also chair of the board of trustees for UNICEF UK, but stepped down in September 2020 following accusations of bullying. He was later cleared.

Meanwhile, former Scottish Labour minister Patricia Ferguson has confirmed she has thrown her hat into the ring in the contest to become a general election candidate in Glasgow.

Writing on Twitter yesterday she said: "Some news! I am standing for selection for Scottish Labour in the Glasgow North/Glasgow North West constituencies.

"I’m excited to have the opportunity, over the next few weeks, to explain why I should be Labour’s candidate at the next General Election."

Ms Ferguson was Labour MSP for Maryhill from 1999 to 2011 and MSP for Maryhill and Springburn from 2011 to 2016. She lost her seat when she was defeated in the 2016 Holyrood election by the SNP's Bob Doris.

After being elected as MSP for Glasgow Maryhill in May 1999, she was Deputy Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament from 1999 until 2001 and as a member of several of the Parliament's Standards and Procedures Committees.

She was first appointed to the Scottish Executive Cabinet in November 2001 as Minister for Parliament when Jack McConnell became First Minister. She became Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport in October 2004.

Scottish Labour want all their general election candidates to be unveiled in time for the party's Spring conference in February.

Constituency parties decide on whether they want a short or longer contest to select their candidate.

Candidates are short-listed by the party's Scottish Executive Committee with members then selecting who they want in constituency ballots.

The twinning arrangement requires there to be a gender balance on the short list of candidates across both constituencies.