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This could be the last ditch for Labour in Scotland, and the answer isn’t Murphy

Sturgeon spechThis morning’s poll in the  the Daily Record sums up the problem Scottish Labour  faces whoever wins the leadership positions: SNP 46%, Labour 24%, Tories 17%, Lib Dem 6%, Others 8%. So what’s the answer?

Nicola Sturgeon in her first speech as SNP leader this weekend clearly sought to position the SNP to the left of Labour. Whilst we may argue that this is mere marketing rather than a genuine shift — she certainly lacks a costed economic plan to substantiate it — it will be the perception that counts in the elections Scotland faces in the next two years.

But the clincher is making support for a minority Labour government conditional on removing Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland and rethinking the “endless austerity that impoverishes our children“. Salmond had already predicted the SNP winning 30 seats at Westminster next May which would allow the party to become power brokers to prop up a minority Labour government and force through greater power for Holyrood. Sturgeon takes his threat to use that leverage and pushes it further to the left.

Tweeting about her speech, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent, Libby Brooks tweeted:

In the speech, as well as the Trident pledge, Nicola Sturgeon committed to:

  • Ensuring all three and four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds, received 30 hours of free childcare;
  • Guaranteeing all Scottish government cleaners get the living wage by the end of the year (though this affects only 117 staff);
  • Increasing NHS spending in real terms every year if it won the Holyrood election in 2016;
  • Making land reform  a key part of the programme for government she’ll announce in two weeks.

It doesn’t amount to a socialist programme, but it certainly is a few steps in the right direction from our point of view and presents a challenge for Jim Murphy if he is elected Scottish leader. There was also no doubt at the conference, as if we needed it, that the campaign for Scottish independence goes on. So much for Murphy’s view that “the debate that has dominated Scottish politics for a generation, where power lies, is coming to an end.”

Murphy’s strategy is  to attempt to mop up the support of all those ‘No’ voters who previously supported the SNP plus former Tories and LibDems who will now realise that the SNP will not accept the referendum decision. Turning Scottish Labour into the Scottish Unionist Party in all but name (or maybe a new name is part of the plan too). Plus better marketing.

Such an approach could succeed up to a point. He won the previously Tory seat of Eastwood when he wasn’t expected to, and we don’t doubt his continuing potential appeal to Tories even if he makes an issue of refusing to share a platform with them (whilst simultaneously relying on the Better Together staff he recruited to run his leadership campaign to promote his Better Together tour of 100 towns). But I am not convinced that many Unionist Tories would not return to the Tories whence they came at some point in the past,

What it would not achieve is winning back those ‘Yes’ voters who have abandoned Labour, the ones the polls predict will vote SNP in 2015 and most of whom have already voted SNP in local and Holyrood elections. Nor would it avoid a continuing abandonment of Labour by its working class supporters. Jim Murphy may be a Catholic with working class origins, but we’ll need more than better marketing to persuade hordes of working class Catholics to join the Orange lodges in backing an overtly Unionist party. The stimulus that religious sectarianism got from the independence campaign, plus years of progressive disillusionment with New Labour can only be eliminated by a restoration of class politics, and we cannot rely on Murphy to achieve that. It’s just not in the nature of his Blairite politics.

Not that it would be easy for Neil Findlay and Katy Clark either. A “clear red water” strategy would stand a much better chance of re-establishing confidence in Scottish Labour. It would ensure a continued commitment from the trade unions to Labour in Scotland whereas the leaders of some trade unions are unlikely to be able to withstand the pressure from their membership to disaffiliate in the event of a Murphy win. A continue union link is a major plus fact with Labour voters – 63% of Labour voters read the ink as a reason for voting Labour as against just 10% who see it as a negative factor according to the Observer’s recent Opinium poll. Interestingly, 20% of SNP voters (in a weighted sample of 63 so confidence interval is wide) thought it a positive factor too. Note that 20% SNP versus 63% Labour is a very much better ratio than those who regarded Ed Miliband as a a positive factor (3% SNP versus 46% Labour).

However, there is a mountain to climb in re-establishing confidence in Scottish Labour. It will take a lot more than six months to do so. Neil and Katy would be able to start that process. It would require total independence of Scottish Labour from Westminster control; and for Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster to follow Scottish policy not that of the Westminster whips. How else could could they counter the promise of the SNP to support a Labour government provided it bent to the wishes of Scotland on austerity and Trident.

But it will also require a Labour government in Westminster that delivers to the Scottish people before confidence could be restored. And thatwill take very much longer

 

2 Comments

  1. swatantra says:

    That all depends on Murphy; if he distances himself from Westminster Labour, and I mean really distances himself, by saying his oath of loyalty is no longer guaranteed to EdM, then Jim is in with a chance. But the way things are looking Findlay will probably get it because he’s known in Scotland whereas Murphy is the occasional visitor. But the real question is who can best demolish the SNP in Holyrood? And who has the better Media profile?

  2. Barry Ewart says:

    But the SNP are NOT democratic socialists – they are social democrats – whilst we want to redistribute wealth and empower working people they just want a few crumbs for working people
    They were at their most exposed when a billionaire threatened to close Cockermouth Refinery.
    But let’s be honest, if two-faced Cameron had made his speech on “English votes for English Laws” before the day of the referendum instead of the morning after then Scotland would now be independent!

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