JIM Murphy could stave off the Nationalist challenge in East Renfrewshire next week thanks to the Tories, according to the latest polling analysis.

 

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The Scottish Labour leader, who has become a so-called "decapitation" target for the SNP, is defending a 10,420 majority but has been faced with the prospect, along with many if not all of his party colleagues, of being swept aside next week in the expected Nationalist surge.

But a snapshot update for Tory benefactor Lord Ashcroft appears to offer the former Scottish Secretary a glimmer of hope; calls by Conservative grandees Lord Tebbit and Sir Malcolm Rifkind for Scottish Tories to vote tactically to keep the SNP out appears to be being heeded.

Lord Ashcroft has reported that, since a previous poll early last month, the gap between Mr Murphy and his SNP opponent has narrowed from nine points to just three.

"This," said the peer, "seems largely down to Conservative voters; the Tory share is down five points and Labour's up five...and remaining Conservatives are less likely to rule out moving to Labour than in most seats.

"Nearly a quarter of those who voted Conservative in the constituency in 2010 now say they plan to vote for Jim Murphy," he noted.

However, the peer also pointed out that in Dumfriessshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, which David Mundell, the Tory Scotland Office Minister is defending, Labour voters appear not to be intent on reciprocation.

The analysis shows only seven per cent of 2010 Labour voters have switched to the Tories while 82 per cent of current Labour supporters have ruled out voting tactically to keep the candidate, who was Scotland's only Conservative MP in the last parliament, in the Borders seat.

Meantime, Scottish Labour candidates facing wipeout at the election have started a grumbling campaign aimed at Mr Murphy.

Signs of a backlash emerged as Ian Davidson became the first senior Labour figure to break ranks and publicly criticise his strategy.

While some Labour hopefuls insist the Scottish Labour leader has done well with the difficult hand he was dealt when he took over from Johann Lamont in October, others claim more could have been done by the leadership to help their chances next week.

One Labour figure battling to save his seat told The Herald the party should have concentrated resources on winnable seats in Scotland much earlier.

They said: "We are now concentrating on 10 to 12 seats. These are now the seats being resourced, though we hope maybe others can be saved too. From when Jim took over decisions should have been taken then about resources and focussing on the seats that we could actually win."

Another complained: "We have not talked enough about Westminster stuff and what this election is actually about. What Labour would do at Westminster for people in our constituencies.

"Instead we bounced policy ideas around for three months and found voters thought we were not credible."

Others, however, do not blame the ex-Cabinet Minister and instead concentrate their fire power on Ms Lamont.

"That branch office claim stuffed us," one declared. Another added: "What was she doing hanging on for so long? It was obvious to everyone that for the good of the party she had to go".

In the past week, Labour has launched an all-out offensive against the SNP, claiming Nicola Sturgeon is secretly planning a second referendum.

The move has been seen as a pitch for tactical votes.

It stands in stark contrast to Mr Murphy's initial strategy, which was to woo 190,000 former Labour supporters who had voted Yes in the referendum.

A Scottish Labour insider said the plan was doomed from the start.

"Jim was never the man to do that. He spent the referendum on an Irn Bru crate defending the Union.

"If you look at how he has held East Renfrewshire, a former Tory stronghold, all these years, he was actually the ideal man to reach out to No voters and get them behind Labour to keep the SNP out where we can."

Mr Davidson, who chaired the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee in the last parliament, claimed Mr Murphy was "not a stimulating leadership figure".

He said warnings of second referendum would not succeed in Glasgow South West, the seat he is defending, as most voters there backed independence last year.

"We do need to recognise that Jim's campaign has not been breaking through. We do need to be trying something else," argued Mr Davidson.

He urged Ed Miliband to campaign more in Scotland in the last few days before polling to remind voters the real battle was between Labour and the Conservatives.

But Mr Murphy dismissed Mr Davidson's claims, saying he would "leave those comments to Ian".

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "There have never been more resources spent and a more professional campaign in Scotland.

"There are full time organisers in every one of our key seats and the level of traditional and digital campaigning has never been so high."