In Depth

Scottish Labour leadership race: who's in the running?

Jim Murphy announces his leadership ambitions but the Westminster MP is by no means a shoe-in

Jim Murphy has become the first Westminster MP to confirm that he will enter the Scottish Labour leadership race.

The former Scottish secretary's announcement comes almost a week after Johann Lamont's surprise resignation, in which she accused the UK party leadership of treating Scotland as a "branch office".

Candidates have until 4 November to get their nominations in, with the winner announced in December. The leader will be chosen by an electoral college, with a third of votes allocated to Scottish MPs, MEPs and MSPs; a third to Labour party members in Scotland; and a third to members of trade unions and affiliated organisations.

Jon Craig, chief political correspondent at Sky News, notes that with new powers promised to Holyrood, the Scottish first minister will become "a more powerful figure than most of the Cabinet" in Westminster. But whoever takes on the Scottish Labour leadership will first need to win over Scots at a time when the Scottish National Party is on a political roll.

So far, two MSPs, Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack, have put their names forward, while several rumoured candidates have ruled themselves out. Former prime minister Gordon Brown and Scottish Labour's deputy Anas Sarwar have said they will not stand, as have three other MSPs Jackie Baillie, Jenny Marra and Kezia Dugdale.

So who has the best chance of winning?

Jim Murphy

The MP for East Renfrewshire is being hailed as a front-runner in the contest after playing a key role in the unionist campaign, touring 100 towns on an Irn-Bru crate ahead of the Scottish independence referendum. A fitness fanatic, teetollar and unashamed Blairite, Murphy has promised to "listen to Scotland" and has made it clear that his ambitions lie in the role of first minister. The 47-year-old Glaswegian is a proven election winner, having captured and maintained a "safe seat" from the Tories in 1997.

But as a Westminster MP and shadow international development secretary, Murphy will inevitably be seen as "London Labour's man in Scotland", writes Iain Macwhirter in The Herald. Macwhirter says there is a "civil war raging in the Scottish Labour Party", with some fighting for autonomy from London, but he believes Murphy can actually help resolve the north-south divide. He may, however, face opposition from the Unite union after clashing with its leader Len McCluskey in the Falkirk candidate selection row. If elected, Murphy is likely to quit as an MP next May and attempt to stand for the Scottish parliament as an MSP instead.

Neil Findlay

The Scottish shadow health secretary has pledged to put "social justice" at the heart of the party if he becomes the next Scottish Labour leader. A former bricklayer, housing officer and teacher, Findlay was elected as an MSP for Lothian in May 2011. The 45-year-old is popular on the left of the party, with supporters suggesting he will enjoy strong trade union backing in the ballot, says The Guardian.

Sarah Boyack

The Scottish shadow international development secretary was the first to announce she would run for leadership. The 53-year-old, who joined the Labour Party while at school, is also an MSP for Lothian and a former transport minister at Holyrood. According to The Times, Boyack has the backing of MSPs who "do not want to be led by London but are wary of Mr Findlay's hard left credentials". However, the newspaper says MSP votes might be split between Boyack and Findlay, boosting Murphy's chances of success. There also appears to be an appetite for a male and female leadership team. If Anas Sarwar remains in his post as deputy leader, Boyack is currently the only candidate who can offer that gender balance.

Douglas Alexander

The shadow foreign secretary is yet to rule himself out of the race, but LabourList says it would be "very surprised if he stands". He was rumoured to have considered running in the last contest in 2011. "He is certainly a big-hitter, but he's unlikely want to give up his roles just a few months before a general election campaign," says LabourList.

Ken Macintosh

The MSP for Eastwood has been in the Scottish parliament since it was created. He is a former BBC News television producer and a father to six children. He ran for Scottish Labour leader in 2011 and actually won most votes from members, but Lamont sealed her victory with a small majority of MSPs, MPs and MEPs and strong support from union members. Macintosh has been named as a potential candidate but has not yet thrown his hat into the ring.

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