FORMER First Minister Henry McLeish has welcomed the election of Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader, saying the party needs an “action man” to help it recover in time for next year’s General Election.
Mr McLeish told The Scotsman that Mr Murphy needed to “get even” with the SNP after Labour’s nearly eight years in the political wilderness by challenging the nationalists over issues such as poverty and inequality.
The former Labour leader warned Mr Murphy that Scottish voters were “volatile”, with the SNP expected to mount a major challenge in Labour-held seats at the General Election in May.
He said the mood in the party was “dark” after two election defeats at the hands of the SNP and warned Mr Murphy – Scottish Labour’s fourth leader since the party lost power in 2007 – that he faced a “battle for Labour’s survival” in Scotland.
Mr McLeish called on Mr Murphy to take a less antagonistic approach to the SNP and to instead attempt to reclaim the mantle of social justice from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
He said: “The party has not embraced Scottishness. People are volatile and don’t owe the Labour Party a living.
“The new leader has got to not hate the SNP, but want instead to get even by promoting the positive aspects of Labour.
“There should be less venom focused on the SNP and the main battleground has to be inequality and poverty, which is the battleground Jim has got to take the SNP on over.
“That requires an action agenda. An action man. It’s a battle for Labour’s survival.”
Mr McLeish, who served as First Minister from 2000 to 2001, went on to claim that Mr Murphy could still be elected First Minister at the 2016 election, despite the SNP’s massive majority over Labour, which continues to trail the Nationalists in the opinion polls.
He praised Mr Murphy as one of Labour’s biggest hitters in the UK, but warned him to take full charge of policy in Scotland and to demand full autonomy from the party at West-minster.
Mr McLeish said: “This was probably one of the important leadership elections in postwar Labour history in Scotland.
“The party has been in decline for eight years and has lost real traction.
“There is a mountain to climb, but with firm, bold leadership that can be turned around.”
He added: “Jim Murphy is a seasoned, skilled and talented politician, who has one of the best constituency set-ups in Scotland.
“The mood in the party is dark and Jim Murphy will have to move quickly to raise Scottish Labour’s low morale.
“Jim Murphy has already said he wants freedom from Westminster and it’s clear he has to be his own leader. Like Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, he shouldn’t have to look over his shoulder to Westminster.”