Jim Murphy has been elected leader of the Scottish Labour party. He defeated his more left wing rival Neil Findlay with 55.59 per cent of the vote to Findlay’s 34.99 per cent. Kezia Dugdale was elected deputy leader.
Murphy is a far more formidable politician than his predecessor, Johann Lamont. But he faces a mighty task. A YouGov poll of Scotland ahead of the UK general election, published this morning, finds the SNP on 47% with Labour 20 points behind. If repeated at the election in May, and assuming a uniform swing, this would see Labour lose 34 of the 41 Scottish seats that it won in 2010.
However, Murphy has energy and no fear of the SNP, both qualities that Scottish Labour has been lacking in recent times. He is also a formidable campaigner: he has turned his once Tory seat into a seat for life.
But he will be hampered in his attempt to take on the SNP by the fact that he’s a Westminster MP not a Holyrood MSP. He won’t get to question Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions or anything like that.
It will also be fascinating to watch his relationship with Ed Miliband. Lamont quit with an attack on Miliband’s team for treating Scottish Labour like a ‘branch office’ and Murphy has been clear during the campaign that he will do his own thing and that Miliband and Balls can read about his policies in the newspapers like everybody else.
What gives this relationship particular edge is that Miliband brutally demoted Murphy last year, moving him from shadow defence to international development; Murphy, who had ran David’s leadership campaign, never really reconciled to the younger Miliband’s leadership. But Miliband now finds his chances of becoming Prime Minister heavily dependent on how successful Murphy is in turning back the SNP tide. For it is hard to see how Miliband can make it to Downing Street without winning a clear majority of Scottish seats.