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Scottish Labour reshapes Holyrood team

Newly elected party leader for Holyrood selects Margaret Curran to guid Labour's policies

Iain Gray is formulating his frontbench team as Scottish Labour prepare to set out to challenge the Nationalists in Holyrood. The new Labour leader in the Scottish Parliament appointed Margaret Curran to help the party develop policies for the next general election in 2011.

Mr Gray was named successor to Wendy Alexander over the weekend. The East Lothian MSP will face the harsh political spotlight on Thursday when he faces off against the SNP's Alex Salmond in his first First Minister's Questions (FMQs is shown as a live webcast each Thursday at stv.tv/politics ).

Ms Curran, who in June lost the Glasgow East by-election for a seat in Westminster, is seen as one of the more recognisable and respected members of the Labour party. Mr Gray believes she has the best understanding of the voters' concerns.

"She was on more doorsteps and speaking to more voters than anybody else in that by-election and I think she has a very good understanding of how we need to respond to those lessons," Mr Gray told the BBC. "That's why I am going to ask Margaret Currant in my shadow cabinet to drive the policy development process towards 2011 for Labour in Scotland."

Whilst leading the party in Holyrood, Mr Gray must also been seen as a driving force in Glenrothes. The Fife constituency will be the site of another Westminster by-election within several weeks, a vote that is seen as another mandate on Gordon Brown's leadership.

Mr Gray, who didn't mention Mr Brown by name in his party acceptance speech, insisted in his television interview that the Prime Minister was an electoral asset to Labour, calling him "one of the biggest political figures of my generation." Whether Mr Brown - who has already paid a private visit to Glenrothes - should campaign in the by-election was a decision for him, said Mr Gray.

The East Lothian MSP said there should be no referendum on independence and businessmen had warned that uncertainty over this was damaging. Ms Alexander, his predecessor as party leader, had been right to challenge Mr Salmond to put the question to the public and get it out of the way, and he had made clear he was not going to do that.

He also argued for Scotland to receive more in council tax benefit.

"Scotland should be receiving more than £400 million, because 48 per cent of pensioners in Scotland who are entitled to council tax benefit don't receive it at the moment," he said. "I would like to see 100 per cent of pensioners who are entitled to that receive it, and that would require no change at all in the way it's paid."

Mr Gray said he favoured a "reformed" council tax which remained a property tax. And he dismissed the Liberal Democrat Party's call for a 2p income tax cut.

Mr Gray was elected party leader for Holyrood on Saturday. In a three-way contest for the job, Andy Kerr was eliminated after a first round in which no candidate achieved more than 50 per cent. After the second preference votes of Mr Kerr's supporters were redistributed, Mr Gray beat Cathy Jamieson by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.

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