Scotland politics

Labour faces 'big challenge' in Scotland, says Miliband

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Media captionLabour leader Ed Miliband says the next leader of the party in Scotland faces "big challenges"

Ed Miliband has admitted that Labour is facing a "big challenge" in Scotland as the process of finding a new Scottish leader continues.

He was interviewed as he prepared to appear at a Labour function in Glasgow.

Mr Miliband told the BBC he would work closely with whoever was elected as Scottish Labour leader.

During Mr Miliband's visit to Scotland, two opinion polls were published which indicated a dramatic fall in Labour's Scottish support.

The polls, by Ipsos/Mori for STV and by YouGov for The Times, suggested the SNP could have many more MPs in Scotland than Labour after the general election.

Later, Anas Sarwar told the Labour gala dinner in Glasgow that he will stand down as Scottish Labour deputy leader.

His move means contests for the leadership and deputy leadership will run concurrently.

Mr Sarwar said: "I have come to a decision I believe that is in the best interests of the Scottish Labour party. It is my intention to hand over the leadership to a new team on the 13th of December while remaining in post until that time as interim leader.

"I think it's also right that we have a concurrent leadership and deputy leadership election.

"This will allow a Scottish Labour party, its members and affiliates the opportunity to not only elect a leader, but a new leadership team focussed on winning in 2016."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Anas Sarwar served as Johann Lamont's deputy

Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale and North East Scotland MSP Jenny Marra could be possible candidates to succeed Mr Sarwar as deputy leader.

'Branch office'

Three candidates have put themselves forward to replace Johann Lamont as Scottish leader.

Ms Lamont quit the job last Friday, and accused Labour's UK leadership of treating Scotland like a branch office.

Two Labour MSPs - Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack - have so far said they are standing in the contest to replace her, as has the MP Jim Murphy.

Mr Miliband told the BBC that he was not backing any of the candidates as it was "for the Scottish Labour Party to decide who their new leader will be".

He added: "I'm going to work with whoever is elected as the new leader in Scotland and I will look forward to working with them.

"We face big challenges to show how we can change Scotland, how we can change it economically, how we can change it so there are stronger powers for the Scottish Parliament."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Johann Lamont received warm applause at the UK Labour conference, which was held after the Scottish independence referendum

He said he did not agree with Ms Lamont's "branch office" comments, but insisted he had "worked very well" with her during her three years as Scottish leader.

Mr Miliband said: "She made her decision to resign and as she said last week it is now time to move on, look ahead, elect a new leader and we face a big challenge."

He said it was right that Labour should continue to look at the arrangements between the UK and Scottish parties, which he said were always going to be an "evolving process".

Poll slump

He was speaking as a poll for broadcaster STV suggested the party was on track to lose almost all of its Scottish seats to the SNP in the general election.

The Ipsos/Mori poll indicated the SNP is on course to win the most seats in Scotland at next year's general election, which would dramatically reduce Mr Miliband's chances of becoming the next prime minister.

The poll put the SNP on 52%, with Labour on just 23%, the Scottish Conservatives on 10%, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens both on 6%, Ukip on 2% and others on 1%.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Membership of the SNP has soared in recent weeks despite the party being on the losing side in September's independence referendum

STV said the result would cut the number of Labour MPs in Scotland from 40 to just four, with the SNP increasing its number of seats at Westminster from six to 54.

Later, The Times released the results of its poll by YouGov.

It put the SNP on 43%, Labour of 27%, the Conservatives on 15% and the Lib Dems on 4%.

The Times calculated that the findings, if replicated in the May 2015 general election, would give the SNP 47 MPs, with Labour in Scotland retaining 10 seats. The Lib Dems and the Conservatives would retain one seat each.

Responding to the STV poll, Mr Miliband said it showed the "scale of the challenge" that Labour faced, but insisted the party was "determined" to meet those challenges.

He added: "In the referendum, and it is important to note that there was a 'No' vote in the referendum, I think people expressed their desire for big change. Whether they voted 'No' or 'Yes', people said we need to change the way we are governed and who we are governed for.

"I want people to know that I am absolutely committed to that change. We can't just carry on as we are.

"We have got to change the way Scotland is governed, with stronger powers for the parliament, and who it is governed for so that people can make ends meet, can see their sons and daughters getting jobs and we can build a fairer country."

'Westminster establishment'

The SNP has seen its membership triple to more than 83,000 since last month's referendum, when voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon, who will replace Alex Salmond as the country's first minister next month, said the Ipsos/Mori poll showed that Labour was in "meltdown" in Scotland.

She added: "More and more people are choosing to put their trust in the SNP as disillusion with the entire Westminster establishment grows.

"London Labour's treatment of their party in Scotland as nothing more than a branch office has left them in meltdown.

"As a result, people across the country realise that Ed Miliband doesn't speak for them and Labour support is in freefall."

What's the Labour leadership timetable?
Date Event
Friday, 31 October Nominations officially open
Tuesday, 4 November Nominations officially close
Monday, 17 November Voting gets under way
Saturday, 13 December New leader elected

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