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Gay council leader rejects run for Parliament

Tony Grew July 7, 2008

One of the leading lights of the Scottish Labour party has rejected calls for him to stand in the Glasgow East by-election.

The contest was sparked when veteran MP David Marshall stood down from the Commons, citing health reasons.

It is reported that Steven Purcell, the 35-year-old Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, would not allow his name to be considered for the seat.

The Daily Telegraph said that Mr Purcell “didn’t want his homosexuality being put on trial.”

With a budget of £2.4 billion and 36,000 staff, he is arguably the most powerful gay man in Scottish politics.

Downing St sources have denied that the Prime Minister personally asked the young council leader to stand in the election.

On paper Glasgow East is a safe Labour seat, but there is real concern that the Labour party could lose to the SNP in the July 24th by-election.

To lose a seat that just three years ago, under Tony Blair’s leadership, returned Mr Marshall with a majority of more than 13,000, would be a serious blow to Gordon Brown.

The party lost the “safe” seat of Crewe and Nantwich to the Tories two months ago, while in last month’s by-election to replace Boris Johnson as MP for Henley they were pushed into fifth place, behind the Greens and the BNP.

The Labour party in Scotland is having trouble adjusting to the realities of opposition, while the SNP’s minority government is popular with voters.

Wendy Alexander stood down as Labour’s leader north of the border last month, after less than a year in the job.

The party’s difficulty in finding a candidate for Glasgow East has delighted their opponents.

Councillor George Ryan was assumed to have all but secured the Labour candidacy, but he failed to turn up to the selection meeting on Friday night.

Over the weekend, as the SNP candidate was out campaigning, Labour leaders were trying to convince Mr Purcell and others to run.

It was announced on Saturday that MSP Margaret Curran would throw her hat in the ring. She is expected to be formally selected this evening.

SNP leader Alex Salmond, at the launch of his party’s campaign for the by-election earlier today, said:

“There’s a political earthquake on the way in Glasgow East.

“The fact that we are in with a chance is a comment on how far things have moved in Scottish politics.”

Mr Purcell is often viewed as a future leader of Scottish Labour.

He was elected unopposed as the leader of Scotland’s largest city council three years ago, at the tender age of 32.

In 2006 he announced that his marriage was over and came out of the closet.

Described as charismatic and capable, Mr Purcell helped secure the 2014 Commonwealth Games for Glasgow.

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