Jim Murphy in pole position to be Scottish Labour leader

Former Scottish Secretary won plaudits during the independence campaign

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The former Cabinet minister Jim Murphy was last night under pressure from senior Labour figures to stand as the party’s leader in Scotland.

The party has been plunged into turmoil by the dramatic resignation of Johann Lamont, who accused its UK leadership under Ed Miliband of treating Scotland like a “branch office”.

Gordon Brown was reported on Sunday to have rejected overtures to return to the political fray, potentially clearing the way for Mr Murphy.

The former Scottish Secretary won plaudits during the independence campaign for his nationwide tour where he stood on Irn-Bru crates arguing against separation.

However, he could run into opposition from party activists who are suspicious of his Blairite instincts. Friends also believe he harbours hopes of becoming a minister after a Labour election victory despite his lukewarm relations with Mr Miliband.

If he stands, he would face strong competition from Anas Sarwar, who took over as Labour’s interim leader in Scotland following Ms Lamont’s departure.

The winner, who will be announced on 13 December, would face a daunting challenge in reversing the surge of support for the Scottish Nationalists, who are threatening to capture a string of seats from Labour in next year’s general election.

The timetable was fixed by the Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee following an emergency session.

Mr Sarwar said: “What was clear from the meeting was a real determination to make sure our focus over the coming weeks and months was to expose the failings of both the Tory and SNP governments and to work with whoever the new leader is to deliver a Labour government at next year’s general election.

“This cannot be a process that only looks internally but crucially gives the party and the party members the opportunity to debate Scottish Labour’s vision for Scotland.”

Mr Sarwar would not be drawn on whether he will stand as a candidate.  He said: “I don’t think today is the day to make individual announcements.”

Nominations from MPs, MSPs and MEPs will open on 31 October and close on 4 November. The ballot starts on 17 November and the new leader will be announced on 13 December.

Stewart Maxwell, an SNP MSP, said: “Ed Miliband and his Westminster coterie apparently had plenty to say behind Johann Lamont’s back as they undermined her leadership, but now he must respond publicly to Johann Lamont’s resignation.

“Johann Lamont’s resignation has lifted the lid on the scale of the infighting between Labour in Scotland and Labour at Westminster and has exposed the shambles that the Labour Party is for all to see – and people understand that the blame lies squarely at the door of Ed Miliband.”