Scottish Labour in disarray as Johann Lamont quits

Johann Lamont. Pic: Jane Barlow

Johann Lamont. Pic: Jane Barlow

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SCOTTISH Labour was today in disarray after Johann Lamont quit as party leader and blamed Westminster colleagues for forcing her out.

Ms Lamont claimed she had no choice but to resign after her attempts to reform the Scottish party were thwarted by Labour’s UK leadership.

She said: “I am proud of what we have achieved over the last three years. We held Alex Salmond to account.”

But she hit out at internal sniping about her leadership and criticised party bosses in London for failing to allow the Scottish party more autonomy.

And she claimed some Labour politicians at Westminster “do not understand the politics they are facing”.

She said: “I am standing down so that the debate our country demands can take place.”

Her resignation comes just five weeks after the independence referendum, in which Labour was part of the winning No campaign but saw many of its traditional strongholds voting Yes.

The party has also been divided over the next key issue of what new powers should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Lamont said: “I firmly believe that Scotland’s place is in the UK and I do not believe in powers for powers’ sake.

“For example, I think power should be devolved from Holyrood to communities.

“But colleagues need to realise that the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster.”

Ms Lamont took over as Scottish Labour leader in the aftermath of the 2011 election, where the party suffered its worst defeat.

There had been speculation about her future for some time. Labour insiders said she had signalled to colleagues during the referendum that she wanted to step down and then changed her mind, but came under growing pressure to go.

A UK Labour source said: “She realised it was time for a change in Scotland, she has put the party first. Ed [Miliband] regards her as an honourable woman who has served the party well and we hope will serve the party again in the future.”

Former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy is the most obvious potential successor, even though he is based at Westminster. He campaigned across Scotland during the referendum with his one-man “100 town tour”.

Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale is highly regarded and tipped as a future leader, but friends said it was “too early” for her to make a bid. She was first elected in 2011. Fellow Lothian MSP Neil Findlay is also mentioned as a contender.

There was speculation that Gordon Brown, whose crusading intervention in the closing stages of the referendum was credited with winning vital votes for the No camp, could be planning a move to Holyrood. But in an interview with the Evening News just ahead of the vote, the former prime minister ruled out such a step. And sources said he was unlikely to change his mind.

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South-West, who led the Better Together campaign, said during the referendum he would consider his options once it was over, He has not so far revealed his plans, but there has been speculation he will retire from politics at next year’s general election.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com