THE new leader of Scottish Labour has vowed to reach out to women and the business community as she takes on the “huge challenge” of reconnecting with voters.

Johann Lamont admitted yesterday that what had “most upset” her when Labour was defeated in May’s Holyrood election was the loss of female voters to the SNP.

Senior party figures in Westminster also said there would be an effort to win over business leaders in the New Year, to convince them the party is “relevant” again.

Seven months after previous leader Iain Gray announced he was standing down, Ms Lamont won the top job on Saturday with 52% of the vote.

The bolstered role sees her take charge of her party’s Scottish MPs and councillors as well as MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

In the first key test of her leadership skills, she is expected today to announce details of her Shadow Cabinet.

She has pledged to give a major role to her main rival Ken Macintosh, the Eastwood MSP, and to offer a position to Tom Harris, the Glasgow MP who was the third candidate in the leadership race.

In her first interview since becoming leader, Ms Lamont said yesterday she did not underestimate the scale of the challenge she faces.

Labour, she said, had to admit that in the Scottish Parliament elections “nobody was listening to us”.

While her victory was comprehensive, she failed to take the most votes among the Labour membership, receiving instead resounding support from union members.

However, she insisted that she was not embarrassed that the union vote had helped secure her leadership. “In this world we don’t have trade union barons any more,” she said.

“The people who voted in the trade union section were the same people – very often low-paid women workers – who were out campaigning about what was happening with their pensions.

“These are actually people who in the [Holyrood] election turned against Labour.

“These are people that we need to reach out to.”

Although Labour had done badly across every group during its disastrous performance in May’s Holyrood election, she revealed what she had found most upsetting was when the party lost its initially large lead among female voters.

“We need to go back now to talking about issues that are of concern to people in our communities,” she added. One of these, she indicated, could be a lack of access to childcare for women.

Ms Lamont also said that for a decade her party had not heard the message that voters wanted a party that would speak up “for Scotland and in their interests”.

She reiterated her belief in greater powers for Holyrood and also argued for extra responsibility for councils. She said she would not allow the SNP to define what form her opposition to independence would take.

Westminster sources also indicated the party plans to start a campaign to win over business in the New Year, amid concerns that Labour is not considered crucial to the debate any longer.

While Ms Lamont has yet to announce the details of her Shadow Cabinet, one key member is already known.

Anas Sarwar, the Glasgow MP, took the job on Saturday as the party’s deputy leader, elected over Ian Davidson, also an MP for the city, and MSP Lewis Macdonald.