LABOUR’S candidate for a potentially key Scottish by-election was shielded from media questions today amid accusations of a “stitch up” by the party’s leadership.

High school teacher Michael Shanks – who quit Labour four years ago over its Brexit stance under Jeremy Corbyn - has been chosen as the party’s candidate for the possible Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election.

Voters in the area are likely to invited to sign a recall petition after it was recommended ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier be given a 30-day suspension for breaching Covid rules. She is appealing the proposed ban but, if that fails and MPs agree with the sanction, voters will get the chance to remove her.

If 10% of the electorate do vote for Ferrier to be removed from office, a by-election will be triggered.

Shanks was out campaigning in Rutherglen town centre with deputy leader Jackie Baillie on Wednesday but, when journalists arrived to meet Shanks, the party’s press team announced he would not be taking questions.

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He only gave a brief line to say how delighted he was to be the candidate and putting forward Labour’s “fresh vision” for the country.

It is understood Shanks was not prepared to take questions because he was not used to facing the media and had only just been announced as the candidate.

But Shanks spoke to the media extensively when he took on the challenge of running all of Glasgow’s 6000 streets in January last year and has stood as a Labour candidate three times in various elections. He was the party’s only unsuccessful candidate in Glasgow at the 2012 local elections.

There have also been claims of a “stitch up” after the panel selecting candidates ruled out some of the local favourites, prompting accusations that they were attempting to clear the path for Shanks.

Martin Lennon, a Scottish Labour councillor in Rutherglen, said the “top three most popular candidates locally were all blocked” from standing in the potential race to replace Ferrier.

The National: Michael Shanks joined local Labour members in Rutherglen town centreMichael Shanks joined local Labour members in Rutherglen town centre (Image: NQ)

Lennon said that every party member he had spoken to had been “upset” about the process, which saw local councillors Mo Razzaq and John Carson excluded while Aberdeen-based Deena Tissera and Shanks were shortlisted.

Shanks saw off Tissera, Glasgow doctor Glen Irwin and councillor Maureen Devlin to become the candidate.

The Rutherglen Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse CLP put in a formal complaint to Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar and leader Keir Starmer. They warned that they "cannot continue campaigning" for the party until their concerns about the selection process were resolved.

Baillie, who was on the selection panel for the constituency, was asked whether there was a “stitch up” and whether local members were happy with Shanks.

She told journalists: “As deputy leader you wouldn’t expect me to comment on internal matters but it was a convincing win by Michael Shanks.

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“The members in this area have come out in number to support him and that is to his credit and not anyone else’s.”

Baillie was asked by The National how she planned to convince voters in the constituency that Labour were not turning into the Tories after Keir Starmer said he wouldn’t repeal the controversial Public Order Bill – which has given police more powers to arrest protesters in England and Wales - or the Illegal Migration Bill.

Starmer has also consistently pledged to “make Brexit work” rather than go back on it and has rowed back on his pledge to get rid of tuition fees south of the Border.

Baillie said in response: “Each and every day we’re talking to people in the streets of Rutherglen, we’re listening to people about what their priorities are, and what they are saying is they care most of all about a solution to the cost of living crisis, because they are struggling with their energy bills and putting food on the table.

“Across the board, not just the poorest communities, average working families are struggling. So that is their top priority and that is what Labour will deliver on.

“We have a plan in terms of support for energy bills that has been outlined before, we have suggestions to make and proposals to make in terms of help with mortgages and rent, we’ve done that across the board. I think when people listen to what we’re prepared to offer, the things that matter to them most of all, then they will decide to vote Labour.”

If a recall petition does happen, voters will now have to produce photo ID if they wish to sign it.

The introduction of the mechanism caused chaos in England last week at the local elections and Baillie was asked if she was concerned it would get in the way of a by-election actually happening.

She said: “The Electoral Commission will be looking at voter ID and the experience of whether people were turned away appropriately or inappropriately.

“We need to make it as reasonable and easy as possible for people to engage with the democratic process.

“I know the council is looking at what public facilities they would put the petition in whether it’s the Rutherglen Town Hall or sports centres.

“But as far as I’m aware, all the parties including the SNP and the Tories and especially Labour, are saying we should have this recall petition. People should have the democratic right to recall their MP who has been a rule breaker during Covid.”

Labour HQ has defended the selection of Shanks, with a spokesperson insisting that the process had been “properly administered in full accordance with procedures set by the Scottish Executive Committee.”