Scotland politics

Profile: Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour leader

Jim Murphy Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jim Murphy - a noted fan of Irn Bru - undoubtedly added some fizz to the leadership contest

Jim Murphy has had quite a career for someone who arguably started out being elected as an accidental MP.

However, his knack for seeking out and grabbing an opportunity has helped him rise from student activist to Cabinet minister and now leader of the Scottish Labour party.

And don't let the cheeky grin and jokey one-liners fool you - beneath the humour lies Mr Murphy's determination to succeed for himself, his party and Scotland.

Whatever his real reasons for wanting the leadership job - signs of a diminishing Westminster career under Ed Miliband being one suggestion - he is seen by some in his party as its best - and maybe only - prospect for making Scottish Labour winners once again.

But before facing Westminster parliamentary elections next year and in the Scottish Parliament in 2016, Mr Murphy first needs to pull together the party he now leads, which was treated like a "branch office" by Westminster colleagues, according to his predecessor Johann Lamont.

And then there's his past as a "Blairite" politician who backed controversial policies such as the Iraq War and student fees - although Mr Murphy himself says "New Labour" is a 20-year-old tag, now consigned to history.

Victory in the leadership contest is the latest chapter in the journey of the Glaswegian, born in 1967 and raised in a housing scheme on the city's south side.

The charismatic and combative politician emigrated with his family to South Africa as a boy but returned to Scotland in the 1980s in order, he said later, to avoid having to serve in the South African army.

Image caption Jim Murphy was president of the NUS before becoming a Labour MP
Image caption Mr Murphy was first elected to Westminster in 1997

He got involved in student politics and, in the 90s, becoming president of NUS Scotland and then NUS UK - a tried-and-tested route to a Labour career.

During his leadership, the NUS dropped its opposition to the abolition of student grants, in line with Labour party policy - a move condemned by student activists.

In 1996, left-winger Ken Livingstone criticised Mr Murphy for "intolerant and dictatorial behaviour" after he "unconstitutionally suspended" the then NUS vice president, Clive Lewis, for speaking publicly to concerns raised by the Campaign for Free Education, which opposed tuition fees.

Mr Livingstone's comments, laid out in a Westminster parliament early day motion, said Mr Murphy's actions were not acceptable behaviour for someone "putting himself forward as suitable for election to the House of Commons".

The MP for Banff and Buchan at the time, one Mr Alex Salmond, sought to amend the motion by tagging on the line, ". . . as a new Labour Party candidate".

Mr Murphy did duly stand for Labour in the 1997 UK election, and the landslide which followed helped him win what was then Scotland's safest Conservative seat, Eastwood (now known as East Renfrewshire).

Image caption Mr Murphy was required to duck flying eggs during his referendum campaign tour of Scotland

Rather than accept the constituency reverting to Tory control at some future election, Mr Murphy successfully worked hard to keep it, while his status as a government loyalist saw his swift promotion through the ranks.

He became a party whip, then held junior ministerial roles for welfare and Europe.

My Murphy's most high-profile gig came when he entered the Cabinet as secretary of state for Scotland in 2008, telling PM Gordon Brown it was the one government job he wanted.

Up until then, Des Browne combined the role with the more high-profile post of defence secretary. But, seeing an opportunity during a reshuffle, Mr Murphy argued the Scottish secretary should be a full-time job and that he was the man to do it.

Once appointed, Mr Murphy immediately went on the offensive at a time when the SNP had become the new dominant force in Scottish politics.

After Labour fell from power in 2010, Mr Murphy was given the senior role of shadow defence secretary, suggesting his star was still on the rise in the post-Brown era.

But the politician, who worked on David Miliband's unsuccessful leadership campaign, was later reshuffled to the shadow international development brief in 2013 - seen at the time as a demotion.

But whether in or out of government, Mr Murphy remained a weel-kent face on TV screens.

The images of him standing in a blood-stained shirt as he rushed to helped survivors after a police helicopter crashed into the Clutha pub in Glasgow were seen around the world - yet he did not seek to make political capital out of them.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Murphy is known for his joke-cracking and cheeky smile.
Image copyright PA
Image caption But behind the humorous style is his ambition and determination to succeed

When it came to Scottish Labour's troubles, however, Mr Murphy undoubtedly saw another opportunity.

He faced questions about whether he actually began positioning himself for Scottish Labour leadership while Ms Lamont was still in the job, especially given his well-publicised street tour of Scotland during the independence referendum campaign.

In trademark style, Mr Murphy later laughed off the suggestion, saying: "I was positioning myself to try and duck the eggs."

His "100 Towns in 100 Days" campaign for a "No" vote was old-fashioned soapbox politics - or Irn Bru crate politics in this case.

Mr Murphy's 72-hour suspension of the tour, amid "co-ordinated abuse" from independence supporters, increased its profile even further.

On declaring for the Scottish Labour leadership, Mr Murphy understandably faced questions about his reasons for doing so.

He publicly describes Ed Miliband as a man of "great ideas and passion" and has never accepted Ms Lamont's "branch office" jibe.

Image caption The football-mad politician tangled with former Labour colleague James Purnell
Image caption But there was always time to talk politics on the phone, despite Mr Murphy's devotion to the beautiful game

But Mr Murphy did at least partially agree with some of her concerns, expressing a need to "end the period of self-harm that we've had in the party".

And he has made clear he will not be pushed around, saying during his campaign: "No-one will tell me what to do if I'm Scottish Labour party leader" and adding: "Scottish Labour party decisions will be made in Scotland."

On one occasion, when asked if his call for Holyrood to have full income tax powers had been run by Mr Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls beforehand, Mr Murphy said they could "read it in the papers like everyone else".

Yes, Mr Murphy ultimately got the gig as Labour leader - but support was not universal - and he faces the task of uniting the whole party, including bringing in those who backed left-wing leadership rival Neil Findlay.

On top of that, he needs to win a seat in the Scottish Parliament, if not in the 2016 election then before.

No easy task, then - but it has been done before.

Image caption Jim Murphy rushed to help victims of the Clutha pub helicopter crash

Back in 2004, the Scottish National Party, in turmoil following its own civil war, was in need of a new leader.

Alex Salmond, an MP at the time, decided to stand - while at the same time also declaring it his pitch to become first minister.

He got both gigs, after returning to Holyrood by winning a Liberal Democrat-held seat.

Right now, Mr Murphy says he's taking it one election at a time - but history does show that, in the unique world of Scottish politics, anything is possible.