If Jim Murphy becomes the leader of the Scottish Labour Party it will be game on for a serious battle for the votes of the Scottish electorate at next May's General Election, and the Holyrood election a year later.

Mr Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire and Shadow International Secretary, will want to win. His only interest in leading the Scottish Labour Party will be to regain the levers of power for Labour in Edinburgh and London. He should not be underestimated. Against the odds, even his own, he was elected to Parliament in 1997 and has held the seat ever since. His successful march to the Cabinet, without the patronage of either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, was attributed to his ability and lack of indecision. Since the only way he could go was up, he was never frightened to put his head above the parapet.

On paper, Mr Murphy should be a shoo-in for the job. He has more political experience that either Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay, the two MSPs who have declared their intention to stand. He's hungry for power, politically combative and, most importantly in a Scottish context, able to learn from experience.

Both Ms Boyack and Mr Findlay are popular figures at Holyrood but many of their colleagues were bemused at their decision to stand. Amongst the elected politicians Ms Boyack was written off as too nice, and Mr Findlay as too obscurely left-wing.

It may be too grandiose to claim Mr Murphy underwent a Damascene conversion during his 100-day Irn-Bru-crate tour of Scotland during the referendum campaign but he certainly learned Scotland had changed, that the centre of political gravity had moved to Edinburgh and that a strengthened Scottish Parliament within the UK should and would happen.

Mr Murphy's past opposition to further devolution can be used to his advantage. While it may be far-fetched to expect him to admit to the error of his ways, he has been on a political journey.

Mr Murphy will not be taking a victory for granted. Nor should he. He is not without political enemies, and although hardly household names, Ms Boyack and Mr Findlay will have supporters. They both have strengths but few can imagine them surviving the heat of First Minister's Questions.

Whether the three candidates are Blairites or Brownites is irrelevant, and demeaning to a politically sophisticated electorate. It is up to the three candidates to spell out their own political positions. The wider Scottish electorate, as well as those with a vote, deserve to know.

Since the election for the leadership will be held under the three-part electoral college system (the Scottish party had postponed its reform) the elected representatives in the Holyrood, Westminster and European parliaments will vote in one bloc, with party members and trades unions in the other two.

Mr Murphy is expected to win the overwhelming support of elected members and party members. The third bloc, the trades unions, will be the trickiest. Community and USDAW members are expected to back him, but not so members in Unison and Unite. They are more likely to back Mr Findlay, who has made no secret of his more traditional left-wing position.

Whoever wins the party leadership will have their work cut out. No longer can parties anywhere in the UK, and certainly not in Scotland, depend on conventional political ties. Politicians in all parties have to earn their spurs and convince the electorate.

For whatever reason, lack of confidence or lack of will, Ms Lamont did not employ the many levers at her disposal. Her successor may be surprised at the powers already at their disposal.

Nicola Sturgeon will be anointed leader of the SNP before the Scottish Labour leadership is decided. She is smart, and she will want to march the SNP tanks further on to Labour's lawn. The only question for those with a vote in the Labour leadership election is who will be mostly likely to beat her, and take the fight to the SNP. Only the dinosaurs will be trying to settle old scores.

The Scottish leadership election result will tell us how serious Labour is about winning.