Scottish Labour ‘farce’ claim as Harris throws hat into leadership ring

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by G.A.Ponsonby

The news that Labour MP Tom Harris has expressed an interest in leading the party in Scotland has provoked accusations that the party’s search for a leader north of the border is turning to farce.

Yesterday Mr Harris, the MP for Glasgow South, announced that he would consider leading the party in Scotland should they express an interest in having him.

The announcement from the senior MP was unexpected and follows months of stagnation at the heart of Scottish Labour as the party struggle to attract anyone of substance to replace outgoing front man Iain Gray.

Mr Gray, who led the party to a disastrous Scottish election defeat, is expected to stand down as caretaker leader of the Holyrood group in September.  Mr Harris’ intervention is the latest twist in a leadership content which has seen a lack of candidates from the Holyrood group and increasing interference by London based colleagues.

Commenting on Mr Harris’ desire to replace Iain Gray, SNP MSP James Dornan pointed out that the Westminster MP was his own third choice for the post.  Harris himself has already stated his preference for leader was Jim Murphy or Douglas Alexander, both also MPs.

Mr Dornan said:

“Labour’s leadership contest has turned into a complete farce. Tom Harris even admits that he is his own third choice to lead the party.

“Whether Tom Harris becomes leader or not, there is still the question of who will lead Labour’s Holyrood group – who will face the First Minister in two weeks’ time?

“The Westminster Group has already pushed for Johann Lamont to take over as interim leader regardless of what Labour MSPs think.  Now Tom Harris is arguing that Labour’s next leader in Scotland shouldn’t even be an MSP.”

Tom Harris recently joined former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish by calling for a Scottish leader to lead all of the party in Scotland and not just the Holyrood group of MSPs.

In 2008 however Mr Harris argued against such a move saying: “Creating a new post of leader of the Scottish Labour Party would be so fraught with difficulties as to make it entirely impractical.  Under such an arrangement, Labour MPs at Westminster would owe allegiance not to the Prime Minister but to the Scottish leader, and would, presumably, be mandated to support policies on reserved matters that were developed, not on a UK basis, but entirely in Scotland.”

Mr Harris’ volte-face is indicative of a party in turmoil north of the border with rank and file members dwindling and activists in apparent disarray in some constituencies.

The party’s woes in Scotland have already prompted calls from major donors for the Scottish party to cut ties with London.  Brian Dempsey, the millionaire donor, claimed that Scottish Labour had to focus on developing policies for Scotland and not ones aimed at electing Ed Miliband.  Mr Dempsey called for the Scottish arm to break from the “coat-tails of Millbank towers … unchain itself from the anchor of London” and “set sail as an independent party”.

James Dornan claimed that Labour were self-destructing in Scotland and added:

“Voters across Scotland made it clear at the election in May that they want a party run from Holyrood focused on Scottish issues – not a party consumed by infighting like Labour.”