JIM Murphy last night confirmed that he is to run for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. The East Renfrewshire MP will make a formal announcement today.
He has finalised his pitch and is now looking at how to overcome the challenge of running the Scottish party as a Westminster MP.
The possibility of fast-tracking the shadow international development secretary to Holyrood is one aspect of the leadership bid that has been examined by Mr Murphy.
But sources close to the politician last night said his priority was to produce a prospectus that will win the contest.
They also indicated that he may choose to wait until the 2016 Scottish election before standing for Holyrood.
If, as expected, Mr Murphy wins the contest, Scottish Labour could be led by a Westminster politician for as long as 16 months and the thorny issue of who would lead for Labour at Holyrood could prove problematic. Earlier this week, the deputy party leader, Anas Sarwar, the Glasgow Central MP, said he had no intention of stepping aside to allow a Holyrood-based politician to take his place.
Should Mr Murphy and Mr Sarwar end up as the Scottish party’s main figureheads, neither of them would be eligible to face Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood’s First Minister’s Questions.
“The ideal situation would be if the deputy leader was an MSP, but it does not need to be the deputy leader who does First Minister’s Questions,” said a source close to Mr Murphy.
“It is Jim’s intention to get to Holyrood, but his most important priority is to set out what he wants as leader so that he can get the support of Labour politicians, members and trade unions.
“In terms of getting to Holyrood, there are a variety of different options, but the important thing is to become leader of the party.” One alternative to waiting for Mr Murphy to enter the Scottish Parliament until 2016 would be for the party to engineer a Holyrood by-election in a safe Labour first-past-the-post seat that coincided with the UK general election in six months. That would enable Mr Murphy to stand under the cover of a Labour general election campaign.
Another more risky option would be for an existing Labour MSP with a constituency seat to stand aside earlier than May next year to allow Mr Murphy to fight a by-election.
With a resurgent SNP, boosted by the influx of thousands of members in the aftermath of the referendum, such a move would backfire spectacularly if Mr Murphy failed to take the seat. One Labour MSP said: “The party needs absolutely the best candidate possible. I am very much in that camp and for me Jim Murphy is the front-runner.”
Mr Murphy is expected to formally announce that he is running ahead of tonight’s Scottish Labour gala dinner, which will see the UK Labour leader Ed Miliband head to Scotland. His declaration will also be in time for the opening of nominations for the position tomorrow afternoon.
Earlier this week, the long-standing Labour MSP Sarah Boyack became the first politician to announce an intention to stand.
Yesterday she was joined by Neil Findlay, the Labour health spokesman at Holyrood, who threw his hat into the ring.
As a left-winger, Mr Findlay will expect to gain strong support from the trade unions, which make up one of the three electoral colleges that will determine who wins the race.
The outcome of the leadership contest will be determined by the unions, party members and a third electoral college made up of Scottish MPs, MSPs, and MEPs. Announcing his intention to stand, Mr Findlay said he would put social justice at the heart of his bid.
He added: “I have been overwhelmed by the messages of support from people from within the Labour Party and across the wider Labour movement all urging me to stand.
“It is no secret that I wanted Gordon Brown to run but since Gordon has ruled himself out, I now believe we need to have a wide-ranging debate about the way forward for the Labour Party, but more importantly the country.
“I want to bring the Labour Party together to work for progressive change and create a fairer, more equal and prosperous Scotland.
“If elected Labour leader, I will put the issue of social justice at the heart of everything we do – this is the historic mission of the Scottish Labour Party but it also has to be about what we deliver for the Scottish people in this post-referendum period.”
Discussing the key issue of what extra powers should be devolved to Scotland in the aftermath of the referendum, Mr Findlay indicated that he favoured a more radical approach than that advocated by Labour so far.
Mr Findlay confirmed that he understood why there are calls for full devolution of income tax – a stance that goes further than Labour’s existing proposal for partial devolution of the levy.
Asked about devolution of income tax, Mr Findlay said: “Well, I have had sympathy with that approach, but I am absolutely willing to listen to other opinions.
“That was a position that a number of people put across. I understand why people would argue for that but I don’t close my mind to anybody’s opinion. I think it is good that we are having that debate.”
Speaking while Mr Murphy was still contemplating his bid, Mr Findlay said he thought the leader should be an MSP but disagreed with his Holyrood colleague Malcolm Chisholm’s concerns that an MP at the top would be “a catastrophe”.
When asked if it was important for the leader to be an MSP, Mr Findlay said: “I think it probably is but I don’t agree with Malcolm that [an MP] would be a catastrophe. An MP, MSP or MEP is entitled to stand – that’s the rules. Therefore, Jim [Murphy] or anyone else who stands from the UK parliament is as entitled to stand. I have no problem with that.”
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