Ed Miliband has admitted that his party must “fight for every hour and every day” to hold on to its Scottish MPs after a shock poll predicted Labour could be wiped out by the Scottish National party next year.
The dramatic poll for STV said the SNP could win up to 54 Scottish seats and said Labour’s popularity was its lowest level since 2007, only a month after Labour had spearheaded a victorious referendum campaign against independence.
The poll put the SNP at a record high of 52% in Westminster voting intentions and Labour at just 23%.
It came as Miliband prepared to address a Scottish fundraising dinner in Glasgow, where he warned the party faces one of the hardest battles it had ever faced in the six months to May’s general election.
In a mark of the damage caused by the bruising resignation of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont last week, when she accused Miliband of treating her party like “a branch office”, Miliband said his party had already been through a “tough week” and implied it would get worse.
“We face a tough fight but no tougher than the fights we have faced in the past,” he said. “In the next six months I know the Scottish Labour party will fight every hour and every day to deliver the changes the working people of Scotland need to improve their lives. And I will fight with you with every fibre of my being over these months to show how we can change Scotland.”
With senior Labour MPs already openly rebelling at Westminster about the state of the Scottish party, Jim Murphy, the shadow international development secretary, accused his party of lacking passion and vision as he launched his campaign to succeed Lamont as Scottish leader.
Murphy – Labour’s Scottish secretary during Gordon Brown’s government – said he wanted the Scottish Labour party to “end its losing streak”, adding: “We’ve lost too many elections north of the border and I want to bring that to an end.”
With the Ipsos Mori poll for STV implying that the SNP would win 54 Westminster seats – a ninefold increase on the six seats it currently holds – losing scores of crucial Scottish Labour seats would be a potentially fatal blow to Miliband’s hopes of winning an overall majority at Westminster, since UK-wide polls suggest Labour and the Tories are neck and neck.
Murphy, during a round of interviews to announce his candidacy, told Sky News that Labour was guilty of underperforming and it “had to change”.
He added: “The Labour party hasn’t been passionate enough in recent times. It has occasionally been divided. I want to end that period of Scottish Labour party self-harm when we turn in on ourselves.”
If he won the leadership contest, where he faces competition from Holyrood shadow ministers Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay, he said he would urge voters to “take a fresh look at us. We will have that energy, we will have that passion”.
He added: “We know we make mistakes. We know we’re not going to repeat them. We’re going to stand with that sense of pride and passion and we’re going to change our party and bring our country back together.”
There was open revolt from Thomas Docherty, shadow deputy leader of the Commons and an ally of Brown, who warned Labour was in “a dreadful position” which threatened to allow the SNP to again force through a referendum on independence.
Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, told Radio 4’s World at One: “We have a moribund party in Scotland that seems to think that infighting is more important than campaigning. And we have a membership that is ageing and inactive.
“We can return to be the grownup party that wants to be in government or we can self-indulge like a throwback to the 1980s and watch our party implode, the SNP win again, the Tories win again, and have another referendum.”
Murphy told the Guardian he also wanted the Scottish party to be given far more operational and political autonomy from the UK party – signalling he expects Miliband to allow him much more of a free rein to set policy.
It is understood Murphy wants the Scottish party to have greater freedom to raise and spend its own money, attracting its own donors: its budget is currently controlled and set at London HQ. Murphy and Miliband spoke earlier this week, before he finally confirmed his leadership bid.
He wanted to see “more devolution firstly for the Scottish party, more autonomy for the Scottish party, raising more of its own money, paying more of its own bills and taking greater responsibility.”
The MP for East Renfrewshire for 17 years, Murphy is also under pressure to quickly resign from the Commons and find a safe Holyrood seat to allow him to lead from within the Scottish parliament.
Some senior colleagues believe that a Labour MSP who plans to retire in May 2016 froma safe Labour seat could be persuaded to stand down earlier and allow a byelection to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015.
Murphy confirmed he wanted to stand for Holyrood “at the latest, or hopefully sooner,” but insisted he had not identified any seats or was pushing for a byelection. “I’m going to do these things one contest at a time,” he told the Guardian.
“I think it would be arrogant on the first day of a leadership contest in which there are three candidates for me to start picking and choosing Scottish parliamentary constituencies to go and stand in.”
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