Andrew Whitaker: Jim Murphy could catch everyone out

Jim Murphy has confirmed he will leave Westminster for Holyrood if he wins. Picture: John Devlin
Jim Murphy has confirmed he will leave Westminster for Holyrood if he wins. Picture: John Devlin
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SCOTTISH Labour will have its seventh leader in place since the start of devolution after the results of the party’s leadership elections are declared tomorrow.

It’s not yet cut and dried that former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy will emerge the winner and it’s possible Neil Findlay, his closest rival in the three-way contest that also includes former transport minister Sarah Boyack, could yet snatch victory.

However, should bookies’ favourite Mr Murphy win, he will come under immediate pressure to state how he will plot his route to the Scottish Parliament, to allow him to exert control over the Labour group at Holyrood, as well as face his recently elected SNP opponent, Nicola Sturgeon, at the dispatch box.

Mr Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire, has confirmed he will leave Westminster for Holyrood if he wins, meaning he faces either a choice of trying to persuade an MSP already due to retire to stand down to allow a by-election, or simply wait for the 2016 elections.

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As an astute politician, he will know standing again for Westminster in 2015 to sit as an MP for one year would be untenable and leave him open to charges from the SNP of being the “London-based leader” of Scottish Labour.

There is already speculation that Mr Murphy will throw a curve ball at the Nationalists over his electoral conundrum and announce he plans to spend the year between the 2015 Westminster election and 2016 Holyrood election outside parliament.

Such a move would allow him to dodge what could be a tricky by-election for him, where the prospect of a defeat following a high-profile targeting of a seat by the SNP and Yes supporters would badly damage his leadership before it had really begun.

He would also be able to attempt to pitch his year outside parliament as an attempt by him to reconnect Scottish Labour with the electorate following its landslide defeat in 2011.

It’s not hard to imagine him seizing on the opportunity of a year outside parliament to launch a Scotland-wide tour to follow on from his high-profile “100 towns in 100 days tour” during the referendum.

He may already be dusting down the Irn-Bru crate from which he delivered speeches during the tour, which saw him on the receiving end of egg throwers and hecklers.

The late former Labour minister Tony Benn once famously said he was leaving parliament “to devote more time to politics”. While Mr Murphy is no Mr Benn politically, it’s entirely possible he could attempt to present himself as a political outsider in the style of a “Mr Murphy goes to Holyrood” after a year outside parliamentary politics.

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