LABOUR MSP Ken Macintosh is set to stand for election as leader of the party in Scotland as he becomes the first to enter the race to take over from Jim Murphy.
Mr Macintosh was last night canvassing support at Holyrood for a potential leadership bid and is expected to formally launch his campaign to lead Scottish Labour next month, at around the time Mr Murphy steps down.
Eastwood MSP Mr Macintosh began appealing for support among politicians just over 48 hours after Mr Murphy announced he would quit having narrowly survived a vote of no-confidence at the party’s ruling body.
Mr Macintosh is Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for social justice and represents a Holyrood constituency that covers a similar area to the East Renfrewshire seat Mr Murphy lost in the SNP rout on 7 May.
The news that Mr Macintosh, who has been an MSP since 1999, was canvassing support came after speculation that Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Kezia Dugdale, was in pole position to take over from Mr Murphy.
Ms Dugdale was unavailable for comment last night, although Scottish Labour grandee Lord Foulkes said it was now time for a “new generation” to take up the leadership mantle.
Labour’s only Scottish MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, has already said Ms Dugdale would be able to “inspire” her party and the country, and is well placed to challenge the SNP at next year’s Holyrood election.
However, Mr Macintosh, who was defeated for the post of Scottish Labour leader in 2011 by Johann Lamont, became the first to indicate an interest in the job as he contacted other MSPs about his fresh bid.
A challenge by Mr Macintosh could mean a second Scottish Labour leadership contest in less than a year, after Mr Murphy leaves the post. Mr Macintosh,
who shared a constituency office with Mr Murphy before the party leader lost his seat, said he was “not putting out a formal statement” and refused to say what his full plans were.
However, it is understood that Mr Macintosh believes he would be the right candidate to attempt to broaden the appeal of Scottish Labour and reform the party, which lost 40 of its 41 MPs in Scotland to the SNP.
Mr Macintosh began his moves ahead of a meeting of the Labour group at Holyrood today, when MSPs will discuss the situation facing the party in the aftermath of its disastrous election campaign. Speaking last night, Mr Macintosh said: “I’m not putting out any statement at the moment. The parliamentary party is due to meet tomorrow and it will be a chance to discuss what’s happened.”
Mr Macintosh won the biggest share of the vote among individual Scottish Labour members in the party’s leadership election in 2011, although Ms Lamont finished ahead among elected parliamentarians and trade unions in a ballot conducted under an electoral college system.
She stood down last year and accused Labour leaders in London of treating the party in Scotland as a “branch office”.
Mr Murphy wants the contest to succeed him to be held under a one-member, one-vote, ballot of individual party members along similar lines to the UK’s party’s contest to replace Ed Miliband, who reformed the way Labour elects its leader. The outgoing party leader will submit a report on proposed reforms to Scottish Labour’s ruling national executive, when he formally steps down in mid-June.
Labour MSP Michael McMahon, who supported Mr Macintosh in the 2011 leadership election, said he had an “open mind” about who he wanted to succeed Mr Murphy. Mr McMahon said: “I’m just coming to terms with the fact that the guy who I wanted to stay in has been forced out by those who were not prepared to support him.
“I’ve got to consider what the best option is, but I’ve got an open mind.”
Lord Foulkes, a former MSP and MP, said that Ms Dugdale would give party a fresh start in Scotland ahead of next year’s Holyrood election. He said: “Kez is the future of Scottish Labour and we have got to look to the future.
“It’s time for a new generation to take over and I’ve heard nothing but praise for Kez from the left, right and centre of the party.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack, the party’s rural affairs spokeswoman, who was defeated by Mr Murphy in last year’s leadership election, will not stand again. Neil Findlay, who is also a Labour MSP for the Lothians and stood against Mr Murphy, has already ruled himself out of any leadership contest.
SNP business convener Derek Mackay said the uncertainty over Labour’s leadership showed the party was in “disarray”. He said: “Labour’s problems in Scotland run deep – and it will take more than the appointment of a new leader to solve them.
“Labour’s disarray – at both Westminster and Holyrood – underline that the real opposition to the Tory government can only come from the SNP. While Labour turn in on themselves, the SNP will get on with the job of good government.”