Labour MSPs Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh are standing in the contest to lead the party in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, with polls showing the SNP poised to comfortably win a third term in power.
Mr Macintosh, speaking at a hustings event in Dundee, said he was “not prepared to run up the white flag” for Labour which lost 40 of its 41 seats in Scotland to the SNP in May’s General Election.
The Eastwood MSP said he would not “give up fighting” for a Labour win in the 2016 Holyrood election and stated that the party could make gains from the nationalists.
He said “There is too much gloom and doom about Labour’s prospects and that is from some of our own members. I’m not prepared to run up the white flag on Labour. Our values are too important to give up fighting for.
“I will be fighting to win seats in each and every part of our country, standing alongside Labour candidates with a message of hope and optimism for Scotland.”
Meanwhile, Ms Dugdale, speaking ahead of the hustings, said the new powers contained in the Scotland Act should be used to tackle the “inequality in our education system” .
Ms Dugdale is widely seen as the frontrunner to succeed Mr Murphy who quit after narrowly surviving a vote of no confidence at the party’s ruling body in the aftermath of Scottish Labour’s disastrous election on 7 May.
The Lothians MSP, who quit as Scottish Labour’s deputy to allow the party to elect a replacement at the same time as it picks Mr Murphy’s successor on 15 August, said she would use new powers coming to Holyrood to raise the top rate of tax for the wealthy to fund an anti-poverty programme.
Ms Dugdale, an MSP since 2011, said: “I would use the major new powers coming to Scotland to do something about the inequality we see in Dundee and across the country. Under a Scottish Labour Government the very richest few would pay a little bit more, with a 50p rate of tax on those earning more than £150,000. That would allow us to invest an extra £125 million so that we can employ more classroom assistants and literacy experts.
“We just cannot stand by whilst poorer kids leave school without the skills they need to get on in life. If I am elected Scottish Labour Leader it’s what I will campaign on every single day.”
However, Mr Macintosh, who has been an MSP since 1999, said “a new face won’t do” for Scottish Labour if the party is to avoid further losses to the SNP in next year’s Holyrood election.
He said: “I know many of my MSP colleagues are worried about next year, they’re scared about their own seats and their prospects.
“And when facing such a difficult fight, there is a temptation to follow the path of least resistance, to go with what’s in front of you rather than face up to the difficult and challenging questions about our future. This time, a new face won’t do.”