LABOUR MSPs have anonymously attacked the election of Jim Murphy as party leader in December 2014, following Johann Lamont’s decision to stand down from the job following the referendum in September that year.

“We turned to Jim Murphy, which sort of put us in the worst of all worlds,” said one Labour MSP.

A second said: “Jim was a lifeboat strategy. People think the ship’s sinking so let’s rush to the nearest lifeboat. The only problem with a lifeboat is it can end up taking you into even deeper, unknown waters.”

Their views emerged in an academic presentation given last week that analysed last year’s General Election results, in which the party lost 40 MPs to be left with a single Scottish MP amid a massive swing towards the SNP.

One of the Labour politicians predicted the disastrous impact of Better Together when he spoke to a researcher two months before polling day in May.

“I never stood on a Better Together platform. I stood on a platform of solidarity, or redistribution. Some of the best cases I heard against independence were in old miners’ clubs on a Sunday afternoon. We spent decades telling everyone the Tories are toxic, and then we campaign with them.”

He then asked the researcher: “Do me a favour, you’re researching this, right? If you ever find out who made the decision to go with Better

Together, and how they made it, let me know. Because I’ve never met anyone who knows.”

Two months after the May election another Labour MSP told the research team: “It seems to be the case that the referendum did something. I mean it was the moment where a lot of people who maybe weren’t so involved in politics got involved. In that sense it was a moment that forced a lot of change that had been building up over time. And for a lot of people, I’m afraid to say, the lasting memory is of us lined up with the Tories.”

The research was compiled by leading academics, including Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University and Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University, and delivered in a presentation at Edinburgh University last week.

A copy of the document was obtained by The National. Discussing Murphy’s leadership, one Labour MSP told a researcher in June last year: “We’d sided with the Tories in the Better Together campaign.

“We’d lost our leader in a really embarrassing way. We were sinking like a stone in the polls. And what did we do? We turned to Jim Murphy, which sort of put us in the worst of all worlds.

“Not only did we look indulgent, talking to ourselves about our next leader when there was a f****** election around the corner, but we then picked a leader who was a poster boy for so many of the attack lines we were getting.”

At the time of the independence referendum campaign, Labour appeared enthusiastic partners in the Better Together alliance, frequently sharing platforms with Tory politicians.

After the September 2014 vote, Lamont insisted it had been the right decision. However, within weeks she stood down after accusing the UK party of treating Scotland like a “branch office” following her attempts to reform the party north of the Border.

Following the massive election defeat last May, the party’s new UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, conceded involvement in Better Together had damaged Labour in Scotland. After being elected leader last year, Kezia Dugdale tried to soften her approach towards independence, saying she would not stand in the way of Labour MSPs who wished to argue for it.

Responding to the study, an SNP spokesman said: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But despite Labour’s new-found regret at siding with the Tories in the referendum they’ve hardly changed their tune – just yesterday Labour MSPs voted with the Tories in opposing record funding for the NHS, a living wage for care workers and investment to close the attainment gap between rich and poor in education.”

Last night, Labour declined to discuss the findings of the study.

Murphy bearing the brunt of the blame for Labour’s rout