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Murphy as leader would destroy Scottish Labour. Only one from the Left can save it

Scottish Labour at LP conference 2014The Labour Party is in “complete meltdown” in Scotland says the SNP’s leader-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon, adding “the scale of the infighting between Scottish Labour and Labour at Westminster is exposed for all to see.” And she’s not wrong.

Scottish Labour is about to have a debate about its direction and very soul, a debate that profoundly affects the whole of UK Labour too. And that’s exactly what Johann Lamont intended her resignation to precipitate: “I am standing down so that the debate our country demands can take place.”

She complained about how Westminster MPs plotted behind her back, howUK Labour treats Scotland “as a branch office” and how the general secretary of the Scottish party had been effectively sacked without any consultation, according to some sourcesbecause he was too close to the Scottish leadership“, and that could not go on:

That has to change. The Scottish Labour Party must be a more autonomous party which works in partnership with the UK party. We must be allowed to make our own decisions and control our own resources. The Scottish Labour Party should work as equal partners with the UK party, just as Scotland is an equal partner in the United Kingdom. Scotland has chosen home rule – not London rule.”

Remarkably, she was supported in this complaint and desire for Scottish Labour to be the party of Scotland, independent of Westminster control, by her right-wing predecessors as Scottish leader – Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell. The latter pointed out that “everyone believed the problem for me, and for the other leaders since, of authority over the party in Scotland had been resolved three years ago,” referring to the review of the Scottish party following party’s disastrous showing in the 2011 Holyrood elections.

Ironically that review was led by Jim Murphy. It was that review which recommended creating for the first time an elected leader of the whole Scottish party, and devolving responsibility to the Scottish party for all Scottish matters. That devolution has simply not happened, as was painfully obvious during the Falkirk fiasco last year when the Westminster leadership took precipitative action (prompted by Jim Murphy amongst others) which caused the party much damage.

And yet it was also Jim Murphy that has been conspiring with Douglas Alexander and other Westminster-based Blairites to ensure the downfall of Johann Lamont. It was they who persuaded Ed Miliband to intervene, making a mockery of that devolution and giving the SNP the opportunity to ridicule Scottish Labour.

That is why Iain McNicol forced the “resignation” of Scottish party manager Ian Price. And that is why Johann Lamont would have been forced out anyway if she had not herself chosen to resign. Acting Scottish leader Anas Sarwar’s press release yesterday made clear the desire of the Westminster conspirators for Lamont to go through its “praise” for her “decision to put the interests of the Labour Party and the Labour movement ahead of her own“. Sarwar received a well-deserved grilling on Sunday Politics Scotland for this.Campaign for Socialism conference 25_10_14

At a conference of the Scottish Campaign for Socialism on Saturday attended by a hundred leading CLP and trade union activists, MSPs, MPs and Scottish party executive members, former MSP Bill Butler said of the forthcoming leadership election:

Those who wielded the dagger should not inherit the crown”

And yet it is Jim Murphy, above all, who wielded the knife, and he who is now annointed by the Scottish Herald amongst others (not to mention favoured by the bookies) as the most likely winner. But it is not only because of his involvement in the latest skullduggery that renders Jim Murphy a particularly poor choice for Scottish leader. In January 2012, he set out his view of how the referendum campaign should be conducted:

  1. He advocated the cooperation between the three “unionist” parties that became Better Together, shortly afterwards embedded in the campaign finance section of the Edinburgh agreement;
  2. He opposed a second “devo max” option on the referendum ballot paper, describing it as a meaningless “advertiser’s slogan“, an objection which was likewise reflected in the Edinburgh agreement;

Both of these decisions proved disastrous. The decision to campaign as Better Together in conjunction with the Coalition parties alienated large numbers of working class voters from Scottish Labour.The lack of a ‘more devolution’ option polarised working class opinion though that option was effectively revived in ‘the vow‘ agreed between the Westminster parties last month. Though that initiative, brokered by Gordon Brown who had not favoured Better Together, may have prevented Scotland voting ‘Yes’, it also allowed the Tories to backtrack and wrongfoot Labour, which further undermined Scottish Labour amongst some of its former working class supporters.

Nor does the culpability stop there.

Many people share in the responsibility for the mistakes made during the build up to the Scottish referendum vote. Johann Lamont, though she is a principled and decent woman, must do so. Ed Miliband too utterly failed to listen to the trade unions about the folly of Better Together; to recognise the extent of the shift to the Yes camp when (as I reported in March) few delegates at Scottish Labour’s conference in Perth expressed confidence in a ‘No’ vote; or to recognise even after the “victory” last month how desperately bad the position in Scotland still was for Labour though we immediately commented that Labour still faced “a titanic struggle to regain the confidence of the Scottish working class.”

But Jim Murphy together with Margaret Curran and Douglas Alexander were people upon whom Ed should have been able to rely upon to give him these steers. They failed him. If it had not been for Gordon Brown, Scotland might have voted Yes.

But more than that, is the greatest failure of all. The failure of Blairites like Jim Murphy to realise how damaging it would be to take for granted the support of working class core Labour voters in Scotland and elsewhere (who supposedly had ‘nowhere else to go’) whilst triangulating to win the support of aspirational voters in the south-east. And to believe that they could win in Scotland in the future not by targeting their policies to win back working class voters but by targeting voters to the right of the SNP.

John McTernan spoke for the Blairites very clearly from Cloud Cuckoo Land in The Scotsman on Friday. Labour, he says, needs to celebrate its referendum victory, loud and long. More importantly it needed to define that victory: Scottish voters apparently rejected nuclear disarmament, embraced welfare reform  (not for them “ ‘something for nothing’ welfare“), and rejected the “ultra-leftist” re-nationalisation of Royal Mail. McTernan adds:

There is no electoral victory available by moving to the Left of the Labour Party – the Bennites tested that theory to destruction in the Eighties, and the Lib Dems proved it again and again in 2005 and 2010.”

He fails to notice, amongst other things, that, whatever their real underlying politics, the SNP won a spectacular victory at Holyrood precisely by presenting itself as to the left of Labour. And the voters who have defected to the SNP since are not the middle classes who according to McTernan are the ones who benefit from SNP largesse on free university education and prescriptions, but working class voters who he says get no benefit.

If you think McTernan’s right, you should back Jim Murphy. Or if Murphy decides his best career prospects remain at Westminster, for Anas Sarwar, the son of a millionaire who sends his child to the same independent school that he went to himself.

If you think McTernan’s strategy is not only wrong as a matter of political principle but also guaranteed to fail because it will alienate working class voters, you better make sure you back a left candidate who can offer not only an alternative vision to that of the SNP, but also an alternative to austerity’s message of despair.

Oh, and make it an MSP rather than a Westminster MP. Malcolm Chisholm MSP is absolutely right to say that electing an MP as Scottish leader would “turn a crisis into a catastrophe”. Cllr Jon Findlay of Labour for Scotland likewise. Working class voters in Glasgow and Dundee are shifting from Scottish Labour to the SNP not only because they were disenchanted by New Labour but because they want a voice for Scotland and a voice for labour.

Mike Connarty thinks that Gordon Brown is the best person to lead Scottish Labour now. Whilst I do not doubt that he is held in some regard in Scotland, nor that he played an important role in the conclusion of the referendum campaign, nor that he is well to the left of Ed Balls on austerity, I do not think that is the answer.  He is a figure of the past not the future. And though he will be treated much more favourably than Blair by history, deservedly so, as one of the architects of New Labour, he too remains part of the problem rather than the solution.

According to the timetable announced yesterday, candidates are expected to declare from today. Nominations (from MSPs, MPs and MEPs) open on Friday. The ballot commences Monday 17th November and the new leader will be announced on Saturday 13th December.

The ballot process involves a three part electoral college – with equal shares going to trade union levy payers, individual party members and members of the three parliaments. For the good of Labour in Scotland and throughout Britain, may the Left candidate win.

For the purpose of comparison, the previous result (in December 2011) was as follows:

Section 1 Section 2
Section 3
Tom Harris 1.78% 3.44% 2.73% 7.95%
Johann Lamont 17.78% 12.18% 21.81% 51.77%
Ken Macintosh 13.78% 17.71% 8.80% 40.28%
Johann Lamont elected

Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Section 1 Section 2 Section 3
Ian Davidson 4.44% 8.47% 20.37% 33.28%
Lewis Macdonald 6.67% 4.52% 4.434% 15.62%
Anas Sarwar 22.22% 20.34% 8.53% 51.10%
Anas Sarwar elected
Section 1: Parliamentarians
Section 2: Individual Scottish Labour Party members
Section 3: Individual members of affiliated organisations

Daily Record on Johann Lamont


  1. David Osland says:

    I’m as guilty as anyone else in London of not paying enough attention to the branch office. But I find some of the things I have read about Scottish Labour in the last few days absolutely jaw dropping. Are the Tartan Blairites really that complacent, that out of touch? So it seems.

    1. Robert says:

      Yes they are

  2. John P Reid says:

    I half agree with this, but two points
    1 John am trenal doesn’t speak for him murphy, who I agree is the wrong choice

    2 didnt Frank field say he wanted to campaign for the yes campaign,

    1. Louise says:

      This article is a joke. A far-left whinge from someone with a strange obsession with Blairites. If Scottish Labour followed your direction, it would die.

  3. P Spence says:

    Who is the candidate of the Left?

  4. Robert says:

    Devolution for you, so long as you do what Progress wants you can have it, sadly in Scotland the people do not want or need Progress, they have a left leaning party in the SNP, yea I know they are pretending, seems so were labour as well.

    The next election in Scotland as it is in Wales will be 2016 we will know the direction.

    But already Wales have fallen in line with Miliband tinkering by dropping the council house building for affordable homes. Labour in Wales were proud to state Council house building program was going ahead my council is building 50 new homes this year, down comes Miliband and ordered Labour to change it to affordable homes to buy or red but to buy would be better.

    Labour socialist that has to be the best laugh this year, but in Scotland it’s different the people have a choice the SNP. in Wales Plaid is dead totally dead the Tories will not win and labour is all we have for now that is..

  5. David Pavett says:

    Would that be the same Jim Murphy who

    1. Is firmly on the Blairite right’,
    2. Is an active supporter of the Progress faction,
    3. Is a keen supporter of a like-for-like Trident replacement,
    4. Is a member of Labour Friends of Israel but not Labour Friends of Palestine,
    5. Was given permission to stay away from the vote to recognise the Palestinian state which he did not support,
    6. Was leader of the NUS when it dropped its opposition to student fees,
    7. Was criticised by an HoC early day motion for his dictatorial and intolerant leadership of the NUS?

    If so then he sounds like just the man to deliver the coup de grace to Scottish Labour.


    Please Ed Miliband, do not put a deluded in the black neoliberal in charge of Scotland. Find some evidenced based sensible socialist who rejects the failed trickle down nonsense.
    @David Pavett – supporting student tuition fees is now definitely shown to be wrong headed. It is leading to another unpayable bubble especially with so many graduates underemployed/unemployed. The Germans have abandoned them. Just one example of how Jim Murphy is unsuitable in Scotland where they were never introduced. Blairites in Scotland are and always were a disaster, as they were also in England.

  7. John Reid says:

    Wow at last I’ve been called far left anti Blairite, who’d destroy Kabour
    Isnt Lindsay Roy, in the running he’d be good.

  8. David Melvin says:

    Sounds like it’s Scottish Labour RIP. Whether in Scotland or in the rest of the UK, Labour will never flourish if it treats it’s members and affiliated trade unions as a revenue source. The Greens have an independent party in Scotland and are flourishing. If the Greens make mistakes it’s due to their democratic decision making – in Labour all you can do is blame Ed Miliband. The latest attack on the Greens in todays Labour List shows that Progress “don’t like it up ’em”.

  9. John reid says:

    Give hain credit he backed Ed for leader rather than david

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