This Week in Scotland: In the red corner…..


In the red corner

Following Johann Lamont’s resignation last weekend, three contenders have thrown their hats into the ring to succeed her as leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

As expected, Jim Murphy MP has announced his intention to stand. In an interview with the Daily Record, he made it clear that he was “applying for the job of First Minister” and would seek election to Holyrood at the Scottish Parliament Election in 2016 or even “before then” suggesting he might be looking to get a seat ahead of 2016, possibly through a “swap” with Ken Macintosh MSP who holds the Holyrood equivalent constituency. Murphy is the frontrunner in the contest and will likely command the political (Ian Davidson MP exempt) and membership support.

Ahead of a speech in Glasgow on Saturday, where he will unveil a batch of supporters, he has pledged to listen to Scots demands for change, bring a fresh approach to social justice and ensure that the Scottish party is made more autonomous from London. James Kelly MSP and Jenny Marra MSP will lead Mr Murphy’s campaign.

Murphy’s announcement comes after Sarah Boyack MSP and Neil Findlay MSP had already thrown their hats into the ring. Findlay, the party’s health spokesman, who had previously called on Gordon Brown MP to stand, will likely command strong support from the Unions and has emphasised the need to place social justice at the centre of everything the party does moving forward.

Meanwhile, Sarah Boyack MSP has emphasised her experience to lead. Although a Holyrood veteran, she does not enjoy the national profile of Jim Murphy. Interestingly, Boyack co-chaired with Murphy the last review of Scottish Labour, which brought in the idea of a leader for the entire Scottish party as opposed to just the MSPs – the issue at the centre of Lamont’s resignation.

U-turn for Sarwar

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader has followed Johann Lamont out the door. In a turnaround from a statement earlier this week where he was adamant that he had no intention of stepping down, the MP for Glasgow Central confirmed that he will resign his post once a new Scottish leader is elected. In making the announcement at a gala dinner last night, Sarwar was keen to stress that he does not share Lamont’s criticism of the UK Labour party (i.e. a branch office) and that his move was to allow the Scottish leadership to become more Holyrood focused.

The move means that Labour will avoid a Scottish top team dominated by Westminster if Jim Murphy MP is successful. The move also allows for an MSP to stand – a move Kezia Dugdale MSP is expected to do. Sarwar’s resignation, combined with a Murphy victory, would also set off a minor reshuffle for Ed Miliband, with the Sarwar possibly heading to the Shadow Scotland brief and Margaret Curran MP moving over to the shadow international development portfolio.

EU Vote majority vote plea

Incoming First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP has suggested that a majority vote in each nation that comprises the UK should be a legal requirement regarding any referendum on the UK leaving the European Union. The SNP are concerned that rising anti-EU sentiment elsewhere in the UK (notably southern England) could see the UK leave the EU despite Scotland potentially voting to stay.

David Cameron has promised an in-out vote on European Union membership if the Conservatives are re-elected next year.

Audit Scotland on the NHS in Scotland

Audit Scotland has published a report that concludes that the NHS in Scotland is finding it “increasingly difficult” to cope with the spiralling healthcare costs driven by an ageing population and the costs of drugs.

The report suggests that patients could face longer delays for hospital appointments despite legislation being past at Holyrood that gives a legal right to receive planned in-patient or day-case treatment within 12 weeks of the treatment being agreed. With budgets tightening at a time of increasing need, the report warns that it will be “challenging” for the NHS to make the changes demanded of it to meet the Scottish Government’s vision for health and social care by 2020.

However, the report did have some positives. It concluded that good progress was being made towards improving outcomes for people with cancer or heart disease and in reducing healthcare associated infections.

Health Secretary Alex Neil responded that although the Government’s ambition may need to be “refreshed” in the light of these findings, he was adamant that there would be no cuts to frontline spending.

Polling woes for Scottish Labour

Two polls published this week, have led to media hype that Labour could be all but “wiped out” in Scotland at the General Election in May. This is of course massively exaggerated given the need for a considerable uniform swing across Scotland and the entrenched nature of some majorities. Headline figures from the two polls gave the SNP a lead over Labour of 28 points (Ipsos-MORI) and 16 points (YouGov). However, what these polls do indicate is the massive mountain Labour and the other parties have to climb if they are to withstand the SNP’s formidable electoral machine.


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