BRITAIN’S biggest union last night turned its wrath on John McTernan, Jim Murphy’s closest aide, accusing him of “locking down debate” over the Scottish party leader’s future.

Unite renewed calls it had made at the weekend for Murphy to stand aside to avoid the party’s obliteration and in a new development, urged the party’s deputy Kezia Dugdale to step up to the top post, removing the need for a leadership contest.

The intervention came in a week which has seen the train driver’s union Aslef and public sector union Unison attack Murphy’s decision to remain in his post, and two MSPs in his shadow cabinet resign in protest.

Unite’s statement yesterday also hit out at MSPs who were standing by Murphy, and suggested the leader’s resignation was necessary if the party was to heal its divisions.

It said: “In a week where Scottish Labour’s chief of staff John McTernan and a small number of elected representatives moved publicly to lock down debate on the ex-MP for East Renfrewshire’s future, MSPs and trade unions have called for Murphy to resign for the future well-being of the party after the disastrous General Election campaign.

“Unite believes this will allow Scottish Labour the necessary breathing space to conduct essential policy and strategic reform, and to pursue a unified agenda going forward into 2016, while offsetting any fears over the distraction that a fifth leadership race in seven years would create.”

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said that while Murphy’s resignation was “the decent thing”, his deputy Kezia Dugdale should step up as leader avoiding a prolonged leadership contest so close to next year’s Holyrood elections.

Rafferty said: “The only decent thing that Jim can do now is to resign and give deputy leader Kezia Dugdale a clear run at rebuilding and reforming Scottish Labour so it can avoid a constituency wipe-out in 2016.

“Jim has been at the nerve-centre of Scottish politics for a generation but he is synonymous with the past and after the General Election catastrophe – Labour’s worst performance in Scotland for nearly a century – he needs to go so we can look to the future.

“These are extraordinary times for Scottish Labour requiring urgent measures, which is why, as the party’s rules permit, Kezia should now step up to lead a process of recovery and reform that can restore stability and unity to Scottish Labour.”

Murphy faces a motion of no confidence at the party’s Scottish Executive Committee meeting tomorrow (SAT), and while the shopworkers’ union Usdaw has given him its support, the Communication Workers Union is due to meet today to discuss their position.

Last night, a source close to McTernan said the attack was unfair and the accusations untrue.

“John doesn’t know what Unite is talking about,” said the friend.

“He has not tried to lock down debate over Jim’s future. He has been accused of something he has not done.

“Maybe they are attacking him as he is a member of Usdaw and has been for a long time.”

In a separate development yesterday, left-wing Scottish Labour activists urged Murphy to resign to allow the party to reconnect with the public without the distraction of a rejected MP at the helm.

A meeting of about 100 activists organised by the Campaign For Socialism reached the almost unanimous decision that “Jim Murphy must go”.

Campaign chairman Vince Mills has passed the gathering’s message – which has been endorsed by Unison Scotland policy officer Stephen Low – to the Scottish Labour Executive ahead of its meeting tomorrow.

Labour members are split on Murphy’s future, with senior MPs and MSPs publicly defending the recently-ousted East Renfrewshire MP, insisting Labour’s problems pre-date his appointment as leader and were too deeply entrenched to turn around in a few months.

But trade union members, many of whom backed left-wing candidate Neil Findlay in the leadership contest last year, have urged Murphy to go.

Mills said: “There is clear dismay right across the party that Jim Murphy is failing to take responsibility for his role in Thursday’s near wipeout and go.

“No-one suggests that Jim Murphy is the only problem Labour has, or that all the blame lies with him.

“But it’s also obvious that without his departure it will be difficult to reconnect with the electorate or have the sort of searching and wider-ranging discussions about the way forward we so obviously need.

“We are asking members of the Scottish Executive to put the party first, insist Jim Murphy quits and not be bullied into a continuation of a situation that will only bring further failure for Labour.”