by Ben Borland
Labour is facing “the death knell in Scotland”, unless Iain Gray can pull off a “miracle” in just four days, senior Holyrood figures have predicted.
Defeat to the SNP, just a few months after enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls, would leave Mr Gray facing a leadership challenge from within his own party.
Poll figures suggest he may even struggle to hang on to his East Lothian seat, although if he does return to lead the opposition then the deep divisions within Scottish Labour are certain to blow wide open.
Finance chief and former leadership rival Andy Kerr – whose support has been lukewarm at best during the campaign – would head the list of challengers.
But some experienced figures within the Scottish Parliament say the priority must be to reform the party and cut the ties with Labour in London. “This is the death knell of the Labour Party as we know it in Scotland,” said one former MSP. “It has got to reassess why are we here, what are we doing and what we want to do in Scotland.
“We are coming very close to the day when the Labour Party in Scotland becomes separate from the one south of the Border or a federal party like the Lib Dems.”
The source, who is standing in this week’s election, added: “Although it is not all down to Iain Gray, the buck stops at his door. Knowing Iain, he will do what has to be done for the party, but there is just not the calibre of candidates there to replace him.
“I don’t think Andy Kerr will want it, especially because it’s possible the SNP may not be in a minority.”
However, Mr Kerr stood against Mr Gray to replace Wendy Alexander in 2008 and is widely believed to have leaked a number of critical stories about his boss.
The civil war began after Mr Gray ordered his MSPs to vote against the SNP’s budget in February, despite Mr Kerr winning a number of concessions. Ms Alexander then quit as a candidate, citing family reasons, but many will now believe she feared an election disaster.
The Sunday Express understands that other contenders for the top job would be reluctant to put their names forward because they privately recognise the shortage of talent on the Labour benches.
Veterans such as Tom McCabe, Charlie Gordon and Hugh Henry would all be potential candidates, although Mr Henry is thought to have his eye on the role of Presiding Officer.
Health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has the “intellect, strength and toughness” to be a party leader, said one former MSP, but “she wouldn’t get the support through jealousy and resentment”. An outside contender could be Gordon Brown’s righthand man Alex Rowley, the former Scottish Labour General Secretary standing for Holyrood for the first time.
Maverick former Labour MP and independent MSP Dennis Canavan said: “There is a dearth of talent. Look at the Labour benches at Holyrood – they are a mixture of time-served councillors and trade union officials.
“Some of the new candidates are nearly as old as me, and I’m 70 next year. And then there is Alex Rowley. I have some admiration for Gordon Brown, but how on earth a guy like him can handpick idiots like Alex Rowley beggars belief. He probably fancies his chances to be the next leader.”
Mr Canavan said Scottish Labour has “lost the plot” and needs a “miracle” to win on Thursday, after some bookmakers yesterday stopped taking bets on the SNP.
He added: “[Iain Gray] is a nice lad. He is not a malicious person, but he just seems to be completely lacking in leadership skills, dynamism and charisma.
“I hear he used to be a teacher. So did I, and I couldn’t imagine him enthusing a class. The man would just turn off pupils the same way he is turning off the electorate.”
Published with thanks to the Scottish Sunday Express