Labour’s bid for Westminster takes first step

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How much more confident would we be in our Government if we knew the ballot box had attracted 84% of the electorate?

That was the referendum turnout and it is a figure which greatly impresses Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Western Isles Alasdair Morrison, who commented that he would like to see compulsory participation in the democratic process.

Mr Morrison has thrown his hat back into the political ring this week after winning the party’s selection process for the General Election - he has previously served as the Islands’ representative in Holyrood from 1999 to 2007 - and was a key member in the Islands’ Better Together campaign during the Scottish Referendum debate.

Now with the independence matter settled he is looking south to the political arena in London.

He said: “I didn’t get involved with the referendum with a view to the General Election, but because I believe that having a United Kingdom is better than a divided kingdom - it was the most important political campaign I’ll ever be part of.

“One of the most useful byproducts of the referendum is the level of engagement - that was hugely encouraging. It was great to see young people applying their talents to matters of political importance and things which will affect their own life chances and now there is a generation of young Scots taking an interest in things like the environment, education and the welfare system.

“There was an 84 per cent turnout nationally at the referendum and I’ve always been a great supporter of compulsory participation in the democratic process, as you see in countries like Australia with participation of 98 per cent - we can certainly learn from that.”

However, the prospective candidate is not hopeful about the same public participation in the General Election, as he explained: “I hope I’m proven wrong - but the referendum was a once in a generation event - General Elections are part of the normal cycle, but it would be wonderful to think that 84 per cent of the population would participate.”

Limbering up for the race to Westminster Mr Morrison went on to list the issues he feels will be important to Islanders including, fuel poverty, transportation costs to and from the Islands and the interconnector.

“Labour will have a manifesto that is relevant for every household, we have a commitment to freeze electricity prices for 20 months following the election and bankers’ bonuses will be taxed and that money used for youth employment opportunities.”

At the local level he added: “There will be a series of priorities which will be spelt out in due course following discussion with the people and communities. And my pledge is simple - to go and fight for those things identified.”

As for the current Western Isles MP, Angus MacNeil, Mr Morrison is scathing of his record: “Angus MacNeil will have to stand on his ten year record, and I think he has a shameful record of neglect,” he declared.

“Mr MacNeil has neglected the interconnector issue. I would ask him to show us, the public, what he has done on this important issue. Renewable energy has the potential to be an economic and social game changer for our Islands, but it requires serious application from a serious politician to bring it about.

“Ninety-five per cent of politics is hard work and five per cent is theatre, the current MP has got that the wrong way around.”

With this General Election coming hot on the heels of the referendum ballot and the debate over which powers should be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood, the Gazette asked Mr Morrison which powers would benefit the Islands, he said: “The first thing I would like restored is Councils being given their rightful place - they have been emasculated with window dressing such as an unfunded Council Tax freeze - which is putting them under extraordinary pressure.”

He continued: “Crown Estate revenues should be devolved, not to Edinburgh but to local communities, where local people and representatives can best determine how that money should be spent.”

And as for the woes of the national party, which has fought off speculation over challenges to Ed Miliband’s leadership, the prospective parliamentary candidate has thrown his weight behind the leader.

“He is our leader and there is no vacancy, I understand that Alan Johnson was asked directly if he would mount a challenge to the leadership and he said no, he would be supporting the leader, and so am I because history shows us that divided parties never win General Elections.”

Mr Morrison added that the situation may also strengthen Ed Miliband: “The attacks he has endured on his values and abilities may fashion him into a better politician and make him stronger. It is a type of apprenticeship an aspirant Prime Minister has to to serve - as Prime Minister of the country is a tougher job than being the leader of the main opposition.”