LABOUR leadership candidate Neil Findlay has said the party in Scotland could shift to the left of its Westminster counterpart and pursue radically different policies such as the scrapping of Trident, public ownership of rail and the end of private finance contracts in the NHS.
Mr Findlay said the left-wing stances were now “mainstream” in Scotland as he stated he agreed with the SNP about the need for the removal of Trident nuclear submarines at Faslane.
The Labour MSP’s intervention came as the ballot opens today to find a successor to former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, who resigned last month accusing Westminster colleagues of treating the party in Scotland like a “branch office”.
Mr Findlay is standing against former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy and former transport minister Sarah Boyack.
Mr Findlay, his party’s health spokesman at Holyrood, called for the incoming leader to be handed full autonomy over Scottish Labour, which he said could then take a different policy stance on critical issues to that of the leadership at Westminster.
When asked if policies such as scrapping Trident and returning Scotland’s railways to public ownership could be delivered by Labour at Holyrood, Mr Findlay said: “If we devolved the power over those areas, of course we could”.
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The Lothian MSP’s intervention came as a new opinion poll published yesterday gave Labour a four-point lead over the Conservatives in voting intentions for the 2015 General Election.
The survey by ComRes put Labour on 34 per cent, unchanged from last month despite infighting within the opposition and speculation about Ed Miliband’s leadership, with the Conservatives down one percentage point to 30 per cent.
The proportion of people who said they could imagine Mr Miliband in 10 Downing Street has fallen to 20 per cent, down from 25 per cent 12 months ago.
Only 50 per cent of Labour voters said they could imagine Mr Miliband as prime minister, a fall of nine points compared to November 2013. However, Mr Findlay praised Mr Miliband’s role during the run-up to the independence referendum, saying he saw the Labour leader successfully “engaging with the public”.
Mr Findlay stated his opposition to the renewal of Trident – a stance opposed by former cabinet minister Mr Murphy, who was Labour’s UK defence spokesman until last year. He went on to say that Scottish Labour would be prepared to take different positions on other key issues to that of Mr Miliband, if he defeats Mr Murphy and Ms Boyack for the leadership.
He said: “Trident shouldn’t be renewed. It’s already Labour Party policy in Scotland to oppose the renewal of Trident.”
Mr Findlay added: “The party has to have more autonomy over policy – we should be able to take the railways back into common ownership in Scotland. I think we should do that.
“There are opportunities for us, for example, to bring PFI (private finance initiative) contracts back in-house. These are issues that the Scottish Labour Party could make decisions over, and should make decisions over, and if that’s different from the Labour Party at a UK level, then so be it, if that is in the best interests of Scotland.”
Mr Findlay suggested that more autonomy for Scottish Labour could allow the party to challenge the SNP more effectively.
He said: “The party has to make decisions and have real autonomy.
“I believe in the principle of progressive taxation and also social justice. Undoubtedly, the view of the public has shifted and we have got to respond to that very positively with a radical Labour programme.
“I’m saying that we should build 50,000 social houses, have a living wage and no tuition fees in higher education. They are mainstream issues.”
A spokesman for East Renfrewshire MP Mr Murphy, responding to Mr Findlay, said that decisions on party policy and organisation would be made in Scotland if he wins the ballot of Scottish Labour parliamentarians, individual members and affiliated unions.
Mr Murphy’s spokesman said: “Jim has been very clear that, if he is elected leader, decisions about policy and the running of the Scottish Labour Party will be taken in Scotland, nowhere else.”
Ms Boyack, who is also a Lothian MSP, said her leadership of Scottish Labour would focus on issues such as affordable housing and inequality in education: “Too many young people experience [inequality] though our education system. We need new affordable housing for young people and students.”
The result of the leadership ballot will be declared on 13 December.
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