The news that long time friend of West Lothian Liberal Democrats John Barrett the MP for neighbouring Edinburgh West is to step down at the General Election has come as something of a shock to me. Indeed John was the candidate for Linlithgow in the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 before he replaced Donald Gorrie as the MP for Edinburgh West when he steped down after being sucessful in the same elections.
On the two occassions outside of conference that I have seen John in action this year he has seemed to be right on form and looking forward to the next general election and taking on whatever the other parties threw at us.
In January this year he was a platform speaker at the Palestinian rally in Edinburgh calling for us to look at this situation neutrally and provide support where it was needed rather than hopping on the US pro-Isreal bandwagon no matter what.
He also turned up to a soggy, no down poured out and windy Linlithgow Street Fair in May he had a good discussion with myself, Kevin McPhillips and Tam Smith the SNP candidate before we really learnt the extent of the local MPs expenses issues.
In his own words (via Andrew Reeves) he says:
"Serving the people of Edinburgh West at parliament has been a great privilege and honour and I have enjoyed every moment, however, after over 25 years campaigning, I believe the time is right to stand down from Westminster.
"I am absolutely not retiring – at 55 years of age and while I am both fit and healthy I feel I have another challenge left in me. Another full term at Westminster would take me to 60 when I feel it would be much harder to make a fresh start at something new. Much of my work at Westminster has been with the poorest and most vulnerable people in the developing world. I hope to use the experience I have to continue with work in this field in the future.
"I have never been a career politician, I was a successful businessman for 20 year and a community campaigner who went to Westminster to serve my local area, not to further my political ambitions and I now I am looking forward to the next challenge. I am still 100% committed to supporting the Liberal Democrats at all levels.
"The only way I know how to do the job is to give it 100% commitment to the job and this usually means working long hours and most weekends. As a grandfather of two lovely grand-daughters, I would now like to spend my weekends with them instead."
Of course this leaves the second safest Lib Dem seat in the UK with a 13,600 majority up for grabs. Often we have heard that incumbency is a major reason preventing Lib Dems from getting more balance both in gender and ethnicity into Westminster. In Scotland only one of our four target seat candidates is a female Katy Gordon in Glasgow North, here is another prime example to get another to get there alongside Jo Swinson, or maybe even a candidate from an ethnic minority of which we currently have none in Westminster in the whole of the UK.
There are many capable women from the Edinburgh area who may consider this opportunity.
Siobhan Mathers springs to mind, but until today's announcement she was throwing her heart and soul into fighting for the Edinburgh Central nomination for Holyrood and doing better than last time on the revised boundaries. Of course part of Central is also in West down at the Murrayfield/Haymarket end.
Amy Rodgers would be another but she recently stepped down from the East Lothian seat for work reasons. However would the opportunity of defending a sizable majority make her reconsider? Questions that only she could answer.
Who, if anyone, in Edinburgh is a potential ethnic option? I know we have several in Glasgow and Dundee but my head is scratching over any approved ethnic candidates in Lothians.
There are others I'm sure who would be enticed by the possibility and I wonder just who will put themselves forward for what is suddenly going to be the most contested PPC selection in Scotland.