The man who successfully led the No campaign in the 2014 independence referendum has endorsed Scotland’s only Labour MP to become the party’s deputy leader.
Former Labour strategist Blair McDougall said Ian Murray should stand for the role vacated by Tom Watson as it would remind voters “we were the party that saved the Union”.
Despite not being selected as the new shadow Scottish secretary, although he is the sole Scottish Labour representative at Westminster, speculation is rising that Murray could throw his hat in the ring for deputy leader.
Watson resigned the position in November and later decided not to contest his West Bromwich East seat at the General Election. At the time his decision was said to have left moderate Labour colleagues “stunned and furious in equal measure”.
Since the result of the election, Jeremy Corbyn has also said he will stand down as leader in the New Year and, as a result, the contest for both positions will run at the same time.
While no candidates have yet officially declared, a number have been rumoured to want to stand, notably Angela Rayner, Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon – all shadow ministers on the Corbynite wing of the party. Conor McGinn, Khalid Mahmood and Barry Gardiner are also likely to stand.
However, Scotland on Sunday has learned that party members are urging Murray, who retained his Edinburgh South seat and for the second time in four years is the sole Labour MP in Scotland, to also run for the role.
McDougall said: “There’s a feeling after the Scottish party was thrown under a bus by the UK leadership, that someone needs to educate the UK party of the reality of Scottish politics.
“The general election was extraordinary – if we had spent the entire time talking about a hung parliament and what we would give the LibDems, people would have thought we were mad, but that’s what we’ve done with the SNP in the last two elections.
“Ian would be brilliant. He knows how to win and is a great politician. It would also be good to have someone there reminding people we were the party that saved the Union.”
A party source said it would make sense for Murray to stand. “Labour’s position in Scotland has never been worse, so to ensure that Scotland is at the forefront of Labour thinking as we face another battle over independence, this would be a sensible thing to do.
“Ian represents Scots with Labour values who want to remain in the Union and are pro-European. There is no doubt about where he stands on these issues, so it would remove the idea that the party is too weak on the biggest matters facing Scotland. He’s also a proven winner.”
Another party source added: “It’s essential that there is a Scottish voice in the leadership debate. The only way our party will ever be back in power is if we can win seats from the south of England to the north of Scotland.
“Some of the biggest questions the Labour Party will face in the coming years will relate to Scotland, and having a Scot as part of the leadership team would show that we are serious when we talk about working for the whole of the UK.”
It is understood Murray had no desire to be made the shadow Scottish Secretary by Corbyn – he had previously resigned from the role in 2016 at the same time as a number of others quite Corbyn’s front bench in light of his stance after the EU referendum in 2016. He was also a supporter of Owen Smith in the previous leadership election.
For the second time Corbyn has an English MP serving as the party’s shadow Scottish secretary, with Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale, replacing Lesley Laird who lost her Kirkcaldy seat at the election.
It is not known if Corbyn consulted Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard before appointing Lloyd, but Scotland on Sunday understands that Leonard has still not spoken directly with Murray in the two years since he became leader.
A former Labour strategist said: “It is vital if we are to become electable again
that we have moderate people at the top of the party, certainly at least in one of
the main leadership positions. Ian Murray is definitely that, and he has
the skills required.
“Of course he would need the backing of members and unions – and we saw Unite try and have him de-selected during the election, so he could forget any support from that direction, so it will be interesting to see who he does gain support from.”
Murray was unavailable for comment.