The battle to replace Eric Joyce as MP for Falkirk intensified this week as local SNP members vote on who should stand for their party.
With the General Election only 126 days away, all parties are now positioning themselves ahead of what promises to be one of the longest Westminster campaigns in living memory.
The Falkirk constituency is viewed by SNP strategists as a key target seat and hopes are high within local branches that they can dislodge Labour from one of its traditional strongholds.
By one estimation, it is the fourth most likely seat to be gained by Nicola Sturgeon’s party.
Local members received their internal ballot papers on Christmas Eve and a winner is expected to be announced by January 12.
There are five people in the running, including two serving councillors on Falkirk Council.
Councillor John McNally (63), member for Denny and Banknock. The barbershop owner was SNP candidate for Falkirk at the last General Election in 2010, securing 30 per cent of the vote - the biggest swing from Labour recorded in any seat in Scotland.
Councillor Steven Carleschi, member for Carse, Kinnaird and Tryst. A Stenhousemuir resident, he sits on the local authority’s planning and education committees.
Paul Gilligan (36). A customer service advisor and father-of-three from the Bog Road area, he joined the party in 2012.
Niall Coleman. Son of Councillor Tom Coleman, the Larbert resident is a well-known local party activist and currently works in the office of Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald.
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (44). The only candidate currently living outwith the Falkirk district, the lawyer from Glasgow enjoys the highest national profile of the five thanks to her role as the party’s women’s and equalities officer. She joined the SNP in 2000 after standing as a Conservative candidate in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections.
Whoever wins the ballot will face Labour candidate Karen Whitefield, a former MSP, who was selected last year, as well as several others in the May 7 poll.
Current Falkirk MP Eric Joyce is not seeking re-election.
Long-serving MP Michael Connarty will once again be standing for Labour in the East Falkirk constituency, which includes Grangemouth and much of the Braes. The SNP expect to issue ballot papers for their own candidate shortly.
Councillor Colin Chalmers, SNP convenor for the Falkirk constituency, said: “I am delighted with the interest we have received and this is the strongest shortlist we have seen in Falkirk for some considerable time.
“Whoever is selected will have come through the most vigorous of processes that has at its heart our 2000 plus local SNP members, and will have deserved the opportunity to put Falkirk onto the political map for the right reasons.
“The 2015 General Election will define how Westminster will regard Scotland for more than just the five years but for a generation. Many of those who voted No in the independence referendum did so believing the promises of more real powers for our parliament. The failure of Labour and the Tories to honour that vow can only be effectively challenged with an SNP vote.”
Former British ambassador will not be standing in Falkirk
A former British ambassador will not be standing as a prospective SNP candidate in Falkirk after failing the party’s internal vetting process.
Craig Murray, a prominent human rights activist and pro-independence campaigner, was approached by activists in the Shotts and Falkirk constituencies to stand in May’s election.
However, the 56-year-old was blocked from standing following an interview with party bosses shortly before Christmas. His appeal against the decision failed.
In a blog posted on his website, Mr Murray said: “Upset and depressed after being barred from the SNP candidates’ register by the hierarchy for ‘lack of commitment to group discipline’.
“I was asked at assessment whether, as part of a Westminster deal with another party, I would agree to vote for the bedroom tax if instructed by the party. I replied no. End of SNP political career. Problem is, I really believed we were building a different kind of politics in Scotland. I also knew that a simple lie would get me in, but I couldn’t bring myself to utter it.
“I had very strong support from ordinary members to be the candidate in Falkirk or in Airdrie, and had 17 requests to stand from other constituencies.”
An SNP spokeswoman said: “This is an internal party matter.”
She added: “The SNP is and remains completely opposed to the Tories’ hated Bedroom Tax and it is a matter of record that our MPs voted against it at Westminster - most recently on December 17.
“As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made crystal clear, the SNP will never do a deal with the Tories - and we will take no lessons from Labour, who campaigned shoulder to shoulder with the Tories for over two years.”
Mr Murray had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.