Jim Murphy, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, and a leading figure in the no campaign against independence, is expected to confirm on Tuesday that he plans to stand as the new Scottish leader after Lamont’s sudden resignation on Friday.
Murphy, a Blairite on the right of the party, is now expected to be challenged by Neil Findlay, Labour’s health spokesman at Holyrood and a popular figure on the party’s radical left, after Brown rejected continuing calls for him to return to frontline politics.
With other potential candidates such as interim Scottish leader, Anas Sarwar, and shadow health secretary, Jackie Baillie, ruling themselves out of the contest, Findlay has come under heavy pressure from trade union activists and the left of the party to stand against Murphy.
That threatens to turn the contest into a battle between rival wings of the party and between the Westminster and Holyrood parties, just as the Scottish National party is expected to shift to the left under its new leader Nicola Sturgeon.
A member of the Campaign for Socialism, Findlay insisted on Monday that he wanted Brown to put his name forward as the former prime minister was the best able to unify and lead Scottish Labour after Lamont’s angry attacks on Ed Miliband’s leadership. But hours after Findlay said he was doing everything he could to convince Brown to stand, sources close to the former premier confirmed he would not do so. “For the past four years, on every occasion that he has been asked, Mr Brown has made it clear he is not returning to frontline politics,” a source said. “That position has not changed.”
Findlay’s supporters said Brown’s statement made it increasingly likely that the MSP would stand. Elaine Smith, a Labour MSP, said it was clear a rightwing candidate would be standing, adding: “But if we get a London-based careerist as Scottish leader, we will be finished.”
Delegates at a Campaign for Socialism meeting on Saturday, held the day after Lamont’s resignation, warned it would be a disaster for Labour if a rightwing candidate such as Murphy became leader, competing against a Scottish National party with 75,000 new members.
But John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former strategist, said Murphy was the best candidate, particularly if the SNP tried to win from the left. “All elections in the UK and all elections in Scotland are won from the centre ground,” McTernan said. “Labour needs a candidate to lead who will be able to appeal to the middle-class mainstream in Scotland and add them to traditional Labour voters behind a centre left progressive project. The notion that Labour should try to win from the left is laughable.”
Murphy will come under pressure to offer significant policy concessions to the left and agree to more powers for Holyrood, several MSPs said privately, if he expects to command significant support.
Speaking after a heated and at times angry private meeting of all Labour MSPs to discuss the leadership contest, one said: “He will have to concede some ground if he wants to unite the party.”
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