THE Scottish Labour leadership challenger Tom Harris yesterday effectively admitted defeat, reducing the contest to a two-horse race between Johann Lamont and Ken Macintosh.
One week before the votes are counted, Harris said the party was “in deep trouble” but was not prepared to make the radical changes required to turn around its fortunes in Scotland.
As the only MP in the race, Harris has argued that Labour had become too closely associated with the public sector and had called for the party to redefine itself so that it becomes the party of business.
But with Lamont emerging as the clear favourite to win the contest having secured the most trade union support, Harris effectively ruled himself out of the race.
“Realistically speaking I am not sure that the Scottish Labour party is prepared to take as radical a step as having an MP as its leader yet,” Harris told Scotland on Sunday.
“My message has been that Labour is in really deep trouble and that we need to think outside the box. There is no indication that the party is prepared to do that yet and I don’t know why.”
This week final votes will be cast in the complex election, which sees the successful candidate chosen by an electoral college that allocates one third of the votes to Labour MSPs, MPs, and MEPs, another third to party members and the final third to trade unions and other affiliated organisations.
The size of the challenge facing Scottish Labour following its disastrous defeat at the hands of the SNP in May was further underlined by the former first minister Lord McConnell, who said the party was in crisis and warned against it retreating back to the days of old Labour. Lord McConnell has yet to endorse any of the three candidates, but is thought to favour Macintosh.
He said: “I would urge all party members to vote for the future and not the past. I don’t want to endorse any particular candidates, but I do want to say that we are in a real crisis. We have no constituency MSPs north of a line drawn from Cowdenbeath to Dumbarton.”
Harris’s rivals paid tribute to the contribution that the MP and former transport minister had made to the leadership race.
Lamont said: “Tom’s campaign has added real vigour to the debate over the future direction of our party.
“After 14 hustings across Scotland, three TV debates and broad engagement with party members, I have every confidence that they will elect the person best suited to lead the party in Scotland.”
Macintosh said: “I am very pleased that Tom Harris stood for leader and I have enjoyed robust debates with him. I think it has been very positive that an MP has been allowed to stand for the Scottish leadership.”