As final nominations closed on Tuesday afternoon, the former shadow international development secretary had been endorsed by 43 of Labour’s Scottish parliamentarians, double the total gained by the two other leadership candidates, Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack.
Kezia Dugdale took an even bigger lead in her bid to become deputy leader against the only other candidate, Katy Clark.
Dugdale, an education spokesman who has only been at Holyrood since 2011, was backed by 51 of Scottish Labour’s 80 MPs, MSPs and MEPs, giving her more than 20% of the total vote under Labour’s electorate college system.
The close of nominations to succeed Johann Lamont, who resigned after crushing internal criticism of her leadership, came as a poll for STV by Ipsos Mori showed the Scottish National party would have 57% of the vote in a Holyrood election, with Labour trailing on 23%.
Further increasing the pressure on Labour, the SNP’s 34-point advantage was even greater than the record lead recorded in a Westminster poll for Ipsos Mori last week, which put the SNP on 52% of the Scottish vote and Labour on 23%.
Murphy, who has pledged to give up his Westminster seat for Holyrood if he wins, said he wanted to be a unifying figure, bringing together competing factions in the labour movement.
His critics say his New Labour outlook and previous backing for Trident and the Iraq war could prove disastrous in Labour’s urban heartlands, where the SNP has made significant gains and large numbers of Labour voters backed independence in the referendum.
In a statement to mark the close of nominations, Murphy said: “If people consider themselves to be leftwing or rightwing, they will still have a role to play in the Scottish Labour party that I want to lead. New or old [Labour], left or right. I don’t care which you are. If your goal is to elect a Scottish Labour party that wants to tackle the big challenges facing our country, then we can work together.”
His hefty endorsement from MPs and MSPs, which implies Murphy has already won more than 17% of the total electoral college vote, raises the stakes in winning the influential union vote that makes up a third of the overall electorate.
Findlay’s backers said they believed a substantial majority of union members would back him. Findlay, who has championed anti-blacklisting campaigns and challenged college cuts at Holyrood, secured 12 parliamentary nominations, 4.8% of the overall vote, while Sarah Boyack, the MSP for the Lothians and the first candidate to formally declare her intention to run, had 10 parliamentary endorsements.
“The parliamentary vote isn’t unexpected, but if you look elsewhere, Neil is getting enthusiastic support from trade unions and the response from the party membership is really positive,” Findlay’s spokesman said. “We expect that to continue, because there are practically no groups of workers that we can’t go to and point to a campaign Neil has helped them with.”
Leaders of Scotland’s two largest unions, Unite and Unison, and the rail union Aslef have already endorsed Findlay to members who have signed up for their political funds. Labour and the unions have not declared how many individual members will vote once the ballot opens in mid-November.
Party sources believe that Murphy will be backed by the next largest union, the GMB, as well by the shopworkers’ union Usdaw and Community. The GMB, one of the few large unions to reject independence in the referendum, is interviewing the candidates on Friday.
Labour is keeping its party membership figures confidential; the last published Scottish membership figure was 17,000. Since the referendum, the SNP’s membership has more than tripled from 25,000 to more than 80,000.
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