SNP leader Alex Salmond has criticised the continued silence of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont as the chaos in Falkirk continues to grow.
In a statement issued today, the First Minister has said the refusal of Labour’s Scottish leader to address issues over the selection process in the constituency blows apart claims that Scottish Labour is in control of its own affairs.
Commenting on the fiasco engulfing Labour following the row over the party’s Westminster selection process in Falkirk, the SNP leader said:
"Labour’s meltdown over its selection procedure in Falkirk has sent Ed Miliband’s leadership into a tailspin.
"But it also exposes the empty rhetoric at the heart of claims that Scottish Labour is in charge of its own affairs – and the silence of the party leadership north of the border.
"We were told after Johann Lamont was elected leader that Labour had changed their procedures so that she was in charge of the party in Scotland, including being responsible for Scottish Labour MPs.
"But now it turns out that is not true, and we are told that all of Labour’s ‘Westminster selections’, including those in Scotland, come under the ‘UK Labour Party rule book’.
On Thursday morning’s BBC Radio Scotland, Labour MP Willie Bain who is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Scotland, explained that "Westminster selections" come under the "UK Labour Party rule book" – and was not the responsibility of the Scottish party.
The MPs admission challenged the authority of Johann Lamont who was supposedly the first Labour leader in Scotland to lead the Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster.
Mr Salmond added: "Johann Lamont has stood by silent and immobilised while Labour have imploded in Falkirk. It has exposed the total pretence that she leads Labour in Scotland. It is London Labour who have been in control as Falkirk Labour spin out of control
"It is time for Johann Lamont to break her silence on Labour’s Civil War"
The episode, in which Labour has claimed a leading trade-union recruited people into the party as members without their knowledge, has also called into question the validity of Labour party membership numbers in Scotland.
A House of Commons Library paper published last December showed that the SNP’s increasing membership is bucking the trend of decline in the UK-wide ranks of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories. The Commons Library paper shows that, while membership of all three of the biggest Westminster parties declined significantly between 2003 and 2011, SNP membership more than doubled in the same period.
Between 2003 and 2011, individual party membership of the Tories across the UK declined by at least 31.5%, the Lib Dems fell by 31.0%, and Labour membership declined by 10.2%. Over a longer period, the report shows that Labour membership fell by 52.3% between 1997 and 2011. Between 2003 and 2011, SNP membership increased by 111.6%.
Addressing the membership issue, Mr Salmond added:
"The other aspect which Labour’s Falkirk fiasco exposes is the party’s plummeting membership in Scotland.
"The only defence against the kind of candidate selection rigging allegations engulfing Labour in Falkirk is a healthy party membership at all levels, to guard against rotten borough syndrome and ensure local branch votes cannot be artificially skewed. That applies whichever candidates have been responsible.
"The SNP’s membership is booming, and we recently celebrated our 25,000th member joining the party. In contrast, Labour’s membership declined by more than 50 per cent between 1997 and 2011.
"The bottom line in all of this – which the utter shambles of Labour’s civil war should not obscure – is that the people of Falkirk deserve proper parliamentary representation. They deserve far better than Labour have offered since they tried and failed to stop Dennis Canavan becoming an MSP."
Labour’s selection process in Falkirk followed the expulsion from the party of disgraced MP Eric Joyce following a string of scandals, culminating in a conviction for assault.
Labour has refused to publish an internal report which followed an investigation into the process in Falkirk amid claims the trade union Unite tried to recruit new members into the party in an attempt at increasing the chances of its own preferred candidate Karie Murphy.
Ms Murphy has since been suspended from Labour along with Stephen Deans who is the party chairman of the Falkirk West Constituency.
The scandal has also led to the resignation from Labour’s shadow cabinet of MP Tom Watson who called for the report into Falkirk to be published. However this looks increasingly unlikely following a decision by Labour leader Ed Miliband to involve the police.