annemctaggartAnne McTaggart MSP looks back at a spirited yet unifying leadership campaign, and outlines why she is backing Jim Murphy MP for the Scottish Labour leadership.

Over the last few weeks, discussions, conversations and debates have taken place across the country to choose the best candidate to lead us into some of the most important elections in our party’s history.

Whatever our preferences or allegiances, I think we can all agree that our three outstanding candidates have conducted a spirited and engaging campaign.

Indeed, it was Gordon Brown who said in 2003, that our party was “best when we are boldest, best when we are united, best when we are Labour”. All three candidates; Neil Findlay, Sarah Boyack and Jim Murphy have demonstrated these vital qualities over the last 6 weeks or so.

It is, in my view, crucial to have these sorts of elections. We should always seek, where possible, to provide a platform for different views, experiences and outlooks to be considered when electing a leader. We should also strive to ensure that our party members are able to exercise their democratic right to elect who they would like to see as our leader, rather than simply watch as the party crowns its new figurehead.

Each candidate has set out their views and, more importantly, each candidate will play a part in reshaping our party and our country irrespective of who wins the nomination this weekend.

Sarah Boyack, with 15 years experience of the Scottish Parliament as an MSP – and her commitment to “double devolution” ensuring that the new powers Scotland receives as a result of the Smith Commission are not simply centralised in Edinburgh, as we have seen under the current Scottish Government – will be a huge asset to our party as we move forward in delivering the vow made to the Scottish people during the independence referendum. Her “100 ideas” campaign has captured the imagination of the Party’s members and will ensure a healthy debate moving forward, as we discuss how best to serve the interests of the Scottish people.

Neil Findlay, with his steadfast commitment to workers’ rights and his great work as Shadow Health Minister in exposing the current government’s failings and hypocrisies represents a crucial part of our party’s history and obligation to help those who, for a variety of reasons, may not be able to help themselves. His experience outside of the world of politics, as a bricklayer and latterly a teacher, means he will be of great strength to the party, especially to those who believe politicians don’t understand the modern struggles of the real world.

Both Sarah and Neil, as I have said previously, are excellent candidates and both would make effective and worthy leaders of our Party. But, in my view, there is only one candidate who can speak not just to our party, but to our country.

Jim Murphy MP has a wealth of experience at the highest levels of government, serving in Labour cabinets and as Shadow Defence Secretary. The job of First Minister is a monumental challenge, increasingly so now that the Smith Commission has outlined the raft of new powers on it’s way to Scotland and, to borrow another Gordon Brown phrase, “this is no time for a novice.”

Perhaps most importantly, Jim knows how to win elections. Not just in our heartland areas, which are crucial in our election efforts over the next 18 months, but in seats which are not typically Labour.

His current seat in East Renfrewshire was a Conservative stronghold until 1997, and his unique ability to connect with not just Labour voters, but voters from across the political spectrum has resulted in East Renfrewshire becoming one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland. It is this ability, to transcend the party and to communicate our Labour message across the whole of the country, that gives us the best chance of a Labour Prime Minister and a Labour First Minister.

Whether it’s his commitment to devolving welfare and the work programme to local communities, or his belief that our education system is currently failing our poorest children, Jim has, throughout this campaign, called out the current Scottish Government on its hypocrisies, and more significantly, outlined what our party would do differently to shape a better Scotland.

It has been apparent that, since the referendum, Labour has been portrayed as a winner in loser’s clothing, and that somehow the party is finished in Scotland. I simply don’t accept that.

When you have introduced the minimum wage and civil partnerships, lifted hundreds of thousands from poverty and radically improved our NHS and schools, you have a record to be proud of. When you are the natural party of devolution and have delivered a Scottish Parliament, you can demonstrate a clear and lasting commitment to the people of Scotland and a promise to continue that pledge.

I accept that as a party we may not always be right, and I accept that the SNP are not always wrong, but when we are right, we should say so and say so clearly. For too long, our party has been too content to talk amongst itself and define ourselves by what we are against, rather than what we are for.

Jim Murphy has already changed that. I believe he will continue that change if elected Scottish Labour Leader.

Let’s not be Old Labour or New Labour, Blue Labour or Red Labour.

Let’s be Winning Labour.