New Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy pledges to build coalition with 'Yes' voters

Mr Murphy says he will 'take the energy of this contest and use it to unite the party'
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Indy Politics

The newly elected Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, yesterday told wounded rank and file loyalists that his victory would mark a "fresh start" for the party, as a poll showed that it would lose 34 out of 41 seats to the SNP at the next election.

Mr Murphy won a convincing victory in the first round of votes in the contest with 55.7 per cent of the vote, ahead of MSP rivals Neil Findlay, the candidate favoured by the left, and Sarah Boyack, in a result that reassured Labour figures in Westminster that the best candidate to see off Nicola Sturgeon's party had been elected. Kezia Dugdale MSP was elected deputy leader.

The scale of Mr Murphy's task in preventing a wipeout on 7 May – let alone becoming First Minister next year – was clear when a poll for The Scottish Sun yesterday on voting intentions at the general election put the SNP on 47 per cent, with Labour trailing 20 points behind on 27 per cent. If the poll were replicated on election day, Ed Miliband's hopes of winning in Westminster would be slim, although Labour could still be the largest party in the UK.

Despite losing the independence referendum, the SNP has picked up thousands of members and now has 92,000 compared with Scottish Labour's reported 13,500, placing the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in a seemingly unsurmountable position to retain her job in 2016.

The East Renfrewshire MP, regarded as a Blairite and one of the brightest stars of his generation, pledged to "take the energy of this contest and use it to unite the Scottish Labour Party".

He added: "This is a fresh start for Scottish Labour. Scotland is changing and so too must Scottish Labour. I'm ambitious for our party because I'm ambitious for our country.

"I'm going to build a coalition of voters, those who voted Yes, those who are aspirational, those who want to build a more prosperous economy, who want to generate and earn wealth, and build a coalition of those voters."

Despite the YouGov poll in The Scottish Sun, he insisted he was confident that Labour would not lose any MPs to the SNP in the general election.

"I'm not daunted at all," he said. "I'm determined. I said at the beginning of this contest it is not a kamikaze mission. I know that we can win; I'm confident we will.

"All the easy things in life have already been done and in every election I've been in I've been the underdog.

"I know there is a huge amount of work to do in a really short period of time, I know that." But he added: "I think we will improve these polls, these polls will turn around.

"Someone said to me the other day that polls are just predictions, but they're also there to be proven wrong. That's what I'm determined to do. What's at stake is the governance of the United Kingdom.

"Who forms the next government of the UK will partly be determined by the Labour Party in Scotland picking itself up, having a sense of confidence and winning again. And that's what I'm going to do."

The leadership contest was triggered when Johann Lamont quit, with a bitter departing shot at Mr Miliband and his circle that they were treating Scottish Labour like a "branch office".

Mr Findlay won 34.99 per cent, while Sarah Boyack came third with 9.24 per cent. The result was seen as a weakening of the power of the unions in the party, as Unite had backed Mr Findlay.

Mr Miliband congratulated Mr Murphy and Ms Dugdale and said: "I look forward to working with both Jim and Kezia to secure a Labour government in Westminster next year and Holyrood the year after.

"Jim showed in the referendum campaign that he is a fighter. He showed in the leadership campaign that he is a leader. I am going to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Jim in the campaign to get David Cameron out at the general election."

Ms Sturgeon, who yesterday appointed Angus Robertson to run the SNP's 2015 general election campaign, said of Mr Murphy: "While we will undoubtedly cross swords often in the months ahead, my door is always open to those who wish to find common ground and work together in the best interests of people in Scotland – something I hope we will have the opportunity to do."

She added: "It is increasingly likely that next year's general election will result in a hung parliament, and it is therefore vital that Scotland returns more SNP MPs to help deliver a progressive policy agenda at Westminster."