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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 02:52 GMT 03:52 UK

Canavan's unhappy divorce

Dennis Canavan with his nomination papers

Dennis Canavan swept to victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections and immediately sought to mend fences with the party from which he had become estranged.

Vote 99 Special Coverage
Mr Canavan, who failed to win selection as Labour's Holyrood candidate in the Falkirk West constituency, was automatically expelled from the party when he decided to stand as an independent.

For Mr Canavan, who has been a party member for 33 years and an MP for 25 years, it was a bitter blow.

But on taking the victory plaudits at the count in the early hours of 7 May, that bitterness had turned, he said, to "sorrow" and he offered the hand of friendship to Labour.

However, one thing was clear - Mr Canavan said he would not compromise on those principles he has held dear as a Labour MP who has maintained the left-wing line in the face of a changing party.

Let the mountain come to Mohammed, he said.

Solution hope

Throughout the acrimonious rift with Labour, which culminated in his automatic expulsion when the nominations closed on 13 April, he retained hope that a solution would be found and he would not have to stand against the official candidate.

He said: "I think the present situation is very embarrassing for the people at Labour Party HQ.

"There have been some leading people, including Cabinet ministers, who have admitted privately to me that they don't know how on earth they got themselves into this mess.

"But I think they have painted themselves into a corner and I think it's very difficult but not impossible for them."

After Mr Canavan handed in his nomination papers, his election agent resigned from the Labour Party - a sign of the loyalty which ultimately transferred into votes when the people of Falkirk West stood behind their long-standing representative.

Officials' resignation

James Lapsley, who had been a member of the party for 20 years, was Mr Canavan's agent for the last two general elections

Other officials in Mr Canavan's local party resigned when he was rejected for the approved candidates list despite the widespread support of local members.

[ image: Ernie Ross: Chaired Mr Canavan's selection interview]
Ernie Ross: Chaired Mr Canavan's selection interview
At times, however, Mr Canavan let down his guard during the campaign, condemning Labour for putting up a "puppet" and treating local constituents with contempt.

He said: "The people of Falkirk West would be ill-served by a puppet whose allegiance is to party rather than people.

"They need a representative who will fight for their interests in the Scottish Parliament and I am standing to give them that choice."

Mr Canavan announced his decision to stand against the official Labour candidate last year and in a statement said he felt he had no option but to "let the people decide".

He said: "The party leadership have treated the local party membership with absolute contempt.

'Insult to Falkirk'

"Party bosses are trying to tell the people of Falkirk West that neither the sitting MP nor anyone else from our area is good enough to represent the constituency in the Scottish Parliament.

"That is an insult to the people of Falkirk West."

Mr Canavan said it was ironic his interview was chaired by "Ernie Ross, the discredited MP for Dundee West", who resigned from the Foreign Affairs Committee after it was revealed he leaked unpublished reports to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

After winning the constituency seat for the Scottish Parliament, Mr Canavan restated his intention to resign his Westminster seat, thus forcing a by-election.

This will provide a further test for Labour and raises the question of whether or not the absence of Canavan from that contest will prompt his loyalists to return to the Labour fold.

Mr Canavan has said he will back a Labour candidate to replace him if chosen by local members on a one-member-one-vote basis.

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