Scotland politics

Profile: Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour leadership candidate

Jim Murphy Image copyright Reuters

Jim Murphy has confirmed he will stand for the Scottish Labour leadership, pledging to unite the party and unite Scotland after the independence referendum.

The party certainly needs uniting after former leader Johann Lamont resigned, saying senior Labour figures had "questioned" her role and that the UK leadership ran Scotland like a "branch office".

Whether or not Mr Murphy was one of those doing the questioning, there had been intense speculation since the referendum that he could run for the leadership.

As soon as Ms Lamont was gone, he was seen by many as the front-runner to replace her, with one figure saying "if Jim doesn't stand it will be a disaster".

The East Renfrewshire MP gained a high profile as he fought a tough referendum campaign, touring 100 towns in 100 days to deliver the "No" message.

The 47-year-old would bring experience of government and street campaigning to the job, but could a Westminster MP who is widely seen as a Blairite reach out to Labour's disaffected Scottish heartlands?

Student politics

Born in 1967 in Glasgow and raised in a housing scheme on the city's south side, James Francis Murphy emigrated with his family to South Africa when he was a boy.

He returned to Scotland in the 1980s in order, he said later, to avoid having to serve in the South African army.

His involvement in student politics led to him becoming president of NUS Scotland in 1992 and NUS UK from 1994 to 1996.

Image caption Jim Murphy was first elected to Westminster in 1997

The NUS dropped its opposition to the abolition of student grants during Mr Murphy's leadership, a move that was in line with Labour party policy but saw him condemned by student activists and some Labour MPs.

The NUS leadership is often a one-way ticket to a safe Labour seat, and Mr Murphy's graduation to Westminster was exceptionally fast.

He was elected MP for Eastwood (later renamed East Renfrewshire) in Labour's 1997 general election landslide, with a majority of more than 10,000.

Westminster career

A government loyalist, Mr Murphy became a party whip, then a junior minister, before finally gaining a cabinet role as Secretary of State for Scotland from 2008 until Labour fell from power in 2010.

Briefly moving to the shadow Scotland brief, he became shadow defence secretary in 2010, suggesting his star was still on the rise within the Westminster party.

However, he was reshuffled to the shadow international development brief in 2013, which could be seen as something of a demotion.

How might Murphy become First Minister?

Image copyright PA
  • Jim Murphy wants to become Scotland's first minister, if he wins the leadership election.
  • But that will only be possible if he becomes an MSP at Holyrood.
  • Added to that his party must win the next Holyrood election.

Mr Murphy's current profile in Scotland is in part down to the key role he played in the campaign ahead of September's referendum on independence.

But he was also known for helping survivors after a police helicopter crashed onto the Clutha pub in Glasgow late last year.

The MP was in the area at the time of the crash and said he ran into the pub to help before emergency services arrived.

Interviewed at the scene by the BBC, he said: "Like other people, you just do what you can to help."

Referendum campaign

With the referendum campaign under way, Mr Murphy embarked on his 100 Towns in 100 Days tour, on behalf of the Better Together campaign to keep the Union.

This was old-fashioned soapbox politics, or Irn Bru crate politics in the case of Mr Murphy.

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Media captionJim Murphy was confronted by Yes supporters in Kirkcaldy shortly before eggs were thrown at him

The tour did not quite run for 100 consecutive days, as it was suspended for 72 hours in late August, after Mr Murphy was hit by eggs while campaigning in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

He blamed "co-ordinated abuse" from "Yes" voters for the decision to suspend the tour, though the Yes Scotland campaign said it condemned "all forms" of abusive behaviour.

While Mr Murphy's brand of street politics earned him much praise and gave him a high profile, it also marked him out as a divisive figure on the campaign trail.

Leadership bid

Just days after the referendum, the Daily Mail ran a story claiming that he was being lined up to replace Johann Lamont as Scottish Labour leader.

The paper said Labour Party sources had told them Mr Murphy would stand for the top job while still an MP - like Alex Salmond did with the SNP in 2004 - and then switch to the Scottish Parliament at the 2016 election.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay have announced they will also stand

In the leadership race Mr Murphy, seen as being on the right of the party, so far faces competition from MSPs Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay, who are both seen as being on the left.

He has announced that he intends to stand in the next Scottish Parliament election "if not before", but has not yet indicated whether he will contest his UK Parliament seat in the general election next year.

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor said that although Mr Murphy would be the front-runner, the timing would be "exceptionally difficult".

He says: "If Jim Murphy is to stand and say 'my future lies at Holyrood', what exactly does he say to his constituents who are about to re-elect him, or possibly someone else, in May next year?"

After announcing his candidacy, Mr Murphy told the BBC: "I'm determined to bring the Labour Party together and end the period of self-harm that we've had in the Scottish Labour Party and get on and improve our country."

If Mr Murphy wins, it remains to be seen if an MP seen as a former Blairite, who backed controversial policies such as student fees and the Iraq War, will be able to reach out to the Scottish voters Labour has lost in recent years.