Andrew Whitaker: Labour’s leadership fight

Neil Findlay MSP at the launch of his campaign for Scottish Labour leadership. Picture: Jon Savage
Neil Findlay MSP at the launch of his campaign for Scottish Labour leadership. Picture: Jon Savage
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Whichever way one looks at it, the SNP has handed Labour a battering in Scotland over the past eight years, with two thumping Holyrood election victories for the Nationalists, who have also claimed the scalp of no fewer than four Scottish Labour leaders in that time.

But while Nicola Sturgeon is taking over the SNP leadership in an uncontested fashion, Scottish Labour actually has a genuine and perhaps one-off chance to take a proper look at itself.

East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy is undoubtedly the front-runner in Labour’s leadership election and it will be a major surprise if he if not named as leader in mid-December when the results are announced, with MSP and shadow minister Kezia Dugdale likely to be voted in as his deputy.

What’s unusual this time around, though, is that the field of candidates Labour members are being asked to choose from contains a number of politicians prepared to challenge many of the political taboos of the day. Labour members have a chance to choose from left, right and centre, with Mr Murphy most obviously representing a New Labour-orientated agenda, and shadow health minister Neil Findlay holding the banner for a more radical approach, alongside the left-wing deputy leadership candidate, Katy Clark.

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Ms Dugdale, easily one of the best performers at Holyrood of this parliament, in truth probably represents a more centrist approach, as does former minister Sarah Boyack – the other candidate for leader.

It’s been monumentally difficult for candidates of the left to get on to the ballot paper for Labour leadership elections at Westminster, with candidates requiring a large percentage of endorsements from their fellow MPs to even take part.

Many Labour members are likely to plump for Mr Murphy on the basis he is viewed as a highly polished candidate with ministerial experience and a reputation of being a big hitter who could take the fight to the Nationalists.

However, it’s worth Labour members at least looking at the alternative field of candidates, who are far from being “joke candidates”.

Mr Findlay and Ms Clark are standing on a platform of using new powers promised to Holyrood to pursue a more redistributive agenda and they appear to understand Scottish Labour has allowed itself to be outflanked from the left by the SNP – something that represents a threat to seats in areas such as Glasgow at next year’s General Election.

So while it’s highly likely Mr Murphy will emerge as the victor, Labour members should consider whether a more closely fought contest may allow the party to look in more detail at how badly it has all gone for it in Scotland.

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