SCOTTISH Labour leadership candidate Jim Murphy has urged party members in Inverness to unite to defeat the Tories at the next general election.
The former Scottish Secretary, widely regarded as the favourite to succeed in the leadership contest, said the SNP swiped a lot of support, but rallying together was the route back into power.
He told an audience at the party’s hustings the contest had to be free of any personal acrimony.
“My message to each and every one of you is no matter which one of us wins, a divided party loses," he said.
"So for 24 hours a day each and every day until that general election and beyond, let’s put the past behind us and genuinely believe in this old idea that is still true today: unity is strength.”
The contest to win over the party membership came to the city’s Kingsmills Hotel on Friday evening, when leadership contenders Neil Findlay MSP, Sarah Boyack MSP and Jim Murphy MP made their case for election.
Mr Murphy, who was last in the Highlands for his ‘100 Days, 100 Towns’ tour ahead of the Scottish independence referendum, said the politics of the Highlands and Islands had always been important to him.
He said his previous role as minister for Europe saw him negotiating with 26 other nations of the EU over agriculture, fishing and many of the things that are important to the Highlands and Islands communities.”
He said growing up poor with four generations of his family living under the same roof in an impoverished part of Glasgow made him a socialist and gave him the right credentials to lead the party. There would be no tuition fees under his watch and the country would be a fairer place to live.
But Labour had to be stronger.
He added: “In 1999 we had the MP and the MSP in the Western Isles, we had the MP in Inverness. Fast forward and we’ve lost half of our list vote and we’ve got some work to do. But we are only two-and-a-half thousands votes away from getting another member of the Scottish Parliament on the list here in the Highlands and Islands and as a minimum we must be able to find two and a half thousand votes.”
He said there was also an opportunity in the fact that 53 per cent of the people here voted no in the referendum.
“We have to reach out to yes voters," he said.
"It’s not their fault they voted yes. It’s our fault. We got something wrong. There are a lot of voters who aren’t dyed in the wool nationalists. They just want change. They want a sense of radicalism and my approach to this would be an increase in the top rate of tax, new policies on mental health and prison reform, and many of the thing politicians don’t talk enough about.”
Neil Findlay, who spent 10 years as a bricklayer before becoming a teacher and a councillor for West Lothian, said he would continue to fight for injustice and for a fairer education system - and said there would be “no privatisation of the NHS under my leadership”.
He said: “If we are going to create a better Scotland then this party has to have new policies and policies that match Scotland’s needs.
“The Smith Commission says we have to come up with imaginative way to use our new powers and my plan is to use those powers to eradicate poverty. It is to all of our shame that a million Scots live in poverty. My 2016 manifesto would be an anti-poverty strategy and central to that would be a commitment to eradicate youth unemployment.”
Sarah Boyack, Scottish Labour MSP for the Lothian region and formerly constituency MSP for Edinburgh Central in the Scottish Parliament, said local authorities were making “incredibly hard decisions” and she would like to see communities consulted more in the process.
She also raised concerns for teachers, saying 4,000 teachers were lost in the last few years, and said stress levels of those in the profession were “at a level we have never seen before.”
While in cabinet she introduced free bus travel, and community transport.
She added: “I invested in our railways in a way we hadn’t done for a generation. I put money into ferries and airport terminals that weren’t even on our manifesto commitment. There were things I discovered you could do with power once you were in that front door.”
Deputy leadership candidates Kezia Dugdale MSP and Katy Clark MP also addressed the 60-strong audience.