Scottish Labour’s most senior MP could run as an independent if he is deselected by union activists in his constituency.
Ian Murray said he was willing to consider campaigning as an independent after the UK’s biggest union called for him to face a full selection contest and be replaced as the Labour candidate in Edinburgh South.
There was an outcry from supporters after Mr Murray, who was Labour’s only MP in Scotland between 2015 and 2017, was singled out by Unite, which said it was supporting a “trigger ballot” that could see him replaced.
Mr Murray, who resigned as shadow Scottish secretary and has been a vocal critic of party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit, said installing a “hard-left Marxist candidate” in his place would see Labour lose the seat.
Writing in today’s Edinburgh Evening News, Mr Murray, who has the largest majority in Scotland, insisted his critics “won’t win”.
“It is disappointing that in the week where I’ve been leading the People’s Vote campaign in Scotland and working around the clock to maintain the cross-party coalition that’s defeating Boris Johnson’s disastrous Brexit, Unite the Union decided to make me the only sitting Labour MP in the UK who they want to deselect,” he said.
“My priority has always been the 80,000 people from Edinburgh South regardless of who they vote for or if they even vote at all.
“They are my boss and they decide if I stay as their MP, not Unite.”
Unite hit back, saying: “Our members are clearly concerned that Ian Murray has consistently undermined the Labour leadership in Scotland and at Westminster, and has on occasion attacked our union.
“No MP is entitled to their seat. It is for Mr Murray to now demonstrate why Unite members in Edinburgh South should return him as their representative.”
Mr Murray told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “If Unite want to try to deselect me on Thursday I am sure the membership of South Edinburgh – that I get on very well with and have their full, wholehearted support – will take a very dim view of that and will vote accordingly.”
Pressed on what could happen if he was ousted from the candidacy, he added: “I would have a decision to make about whether I would stand.
“I think constituents deserve to have a choice of candidates in front of them. I would obviously discuss that with friends, family and colleagues to decide whether or not I would stand if I was deselected.
“But certainly I can guarantee that if the Labour Party... put in some hard-left Marxist candidate they won’t win the seat of Edinburgh South.
“That would be damaging to the Labour Party and damaging to the country.”
Unite is one of seven union affiliates in Edinburgh South and is not thought to have the support from other unions needed to force a selection battle.
Party members will meet tonight to hold their own vote and are expected to back Mr Murray continuing as the party’s candidate.
The MP said he had not spoken to the party leadership about the move to deselect him.
However, he said he would “expect” its support, adding: “If Jeremy Corbyn wants to be prime minister then south Edinburgh has to be a seat we continue to hold for the Labour Party.”
A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “Ian Murray has not been deselected, nor has his constituency voted for an open selection.”
New rules introduced under Mr Corbyn’s leadership have made it easier for party activists and unions to try to replace sitting MPs.
Any branch of a local party can force a selection contest by securing one-third support for a trigger ballot. The same applies to affiliates, meaning one third of unions with members in any constituency can force a selection contest.
The process has become a battleground between supporters of Mr Corbyn who flooded into the party to back his leadership and MPs who have been critical of him.
Across the UK, six sitting Labour MPs have been “triggered”, with one – Kingston upon Hull North MP Diana Johnson – facing a reselecton battle because two party members in one area of her constituency voted for her to be replaced.
However, all six were triggered by party members. Mr Murray is believed to be the first Labour MP anywhere in the UK targeted for deselection by a union.
Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman branded reports that Mr Murray could be ousted from his constituency as “total madness”.