JIM Murphy has signalled a major shift in Scottish Labour policy if he wins the leadership, saying he would not seek to axe popular benefits and entitlements.

The East Renfrewshire MP said he would take a "something for something" approach to free bus passes for over-60s, free prescriptions, free tuition for Scots students and other policies.

He signals a clear rejection of former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont's efforts to curb universal entitlements. She set up a commission looking into the affordability of all entitlements, amid concerns many of them were of disproportionate benefit to better-off families.

However, she was criticised for referring to a "something for nothing culture" in a speech two years ago while her panel considering whether scarce government resources could be better spent was pilloried by the SNP as the "cuts commission".

Mr Murphy said he instinctively backed entitlements which have been credited with boosting the SNP's popularity with voters.

He said: "I believe in a something for something society. If you pay in you are entitled to get out.

"People work hard, pay their taxes and stick by the rules. They are right to expect that when they need support it is there for them.

"That law-abiding, taxpaying majority are entitled to get something from their contribution. Alongside that you have to keep in view the affordability of it but in principle and by instinct I want to take a different approach: something for something."

He added: "There is an issue of fairness. If you have contributed all your years into a system you are entitled to get something back out of it. The contributory principle has been a core component of the welfare state since its inception and that principle can apply in public services as well."

The Scottish Government faces ongoing budget cuts right up to 2018/19, placing a question mark over costly policies such as free care for the elderly and the council tax freeze, now in its seventh year.

Mr Murphy said reform of local government finances should be considered along with handing councils more powers, but he added: "Times are tough for a lot of folk. "I don't start with a knee-jerk, let's increase your council tax view when people are struggling."

Former Scottish Secretary Mr Murphy was speaking as hustings for the Labour leadership begin this weekend. He is the frontrunner to succeed Ms Lamont but faces challenges from MSPs Neil Findlay, who has won strong backing from trade unions, and Sarah Boyack.

Often described as a Blairite, his comments indicate he would not take Labour to the left in order to challenge the SNP, as some within Labour have urged.

He said: "My style isn't going to be picking a fight with the SNP. If they are right, I'll say so. If they are wrong, I'll highlight it."

He said the parties would need to reach consensus on tackling problems posed by Scotland's ageing population, to improving economic output, raising earnings and encouraging business.

Mr Murphy said Scottish Labour would have to fight to be heard in its battle against the SNP, whose new leader Nicola Sturgeon addresses her party conference today before being voted in as First Minister next week.

He warned Nationalists, who enjoy a commanding poll lead over Labour, against triumphalism. "The SNP are behaving like its the abdication of a monarch and the coronation of a successor in a festival of self-congratulation.

"I want the Labour Party to be more confident about what we collectively stand for but there is a difference between confidence and arrogance and Nicola and Alex just have to be careful they don't give the impression of being carried away by their own rhetoric and sense of self," he said.