Robert McGregor, a member in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, asks whether Scottish Labour’s present woes can all be blamed on the current leader.
When the final results came through for Scottish Labour’s obliteration, I concede I was one of the first to say “Murphy needs to go and go now”. However, since the defeat I have spent a lot of time deliberating the reasons why we lost so badly. And importantly asking was Jim Murphy the cause of our unprecedented defeat?
For what it is worth, below are three damaging reasons why I believe the heavy defeat occurred. Jim Murphy is not a contributor to any of them; in fact, he has done a decent job of mitigating the damage done in all three of them.
- If we want to point the finger, we should start with Murphy’s predecessor Johann Lamont.
Last year Henry McLeish was sanctimoniously bashing Scottish Labour whenever he could. Fine, we could just about handle that from our former leader. But then Johann Lamont decided to smash any confidence we still had with the Scottish electorate. I am sure everyone remembers her front page remonstration that UK Labour treated Scottish Labour as ‘a branch office of a party based in London’.
This internal political assault was more destructive and insidious than any accusation or mud thrown by the SNP. Just prior to it, Scottish Labour was already defending incessant attacks by Sturgeon that the Labour Party was simply a ‘London Party’. Great timing Johann!“Branch office” was permanently nailed to our colours throughout the whole election campaign. And, to be fair, Nicola Sturgeon exploited it masterfully. Send a load of SNP MP’s to London to make Scotland’s voice heard. Reflecting on conversations I had with friends, family and colleagues – Westminster and Scottish Labour became almost synonymous, the same way SNP and Scotland became sort of interchangeable too. The “branch office” indictment echoed loudly throughout every constituency in Scotland throughout the whole election campaign.
So when Jim Murphy did take over he clearly recognised the damage done by his predecessor (although he perhaps misjudged the amount of damage). He promptly proposed a new Clause IV which stated that Scottish Labour will ‘represent Scotland first’. This was a smart and genuine attempt to try and salvage some destruction, and make our autonomy important. But the point is, Jim Murphy was not the original cause – he tried to fix it with Clause IV, but the damage was irreparable so soon before the election.
- One of my few criticisms of Ed Miliband was the whole leader’s debate with Nicola Sturgeon. She cleverly positioned herself as if she was representing Scotland and stuck the knife into Scottish Labour whenever she got half a chance. And while doing so, Ed was too busy going on the offensive with David Cameron.
Without doubt, Sturgeon being on the stage with Ed, Cameron and Clegg marginalised Jim Murphy. All he could do was tweet about it whilst Sturgeon was bellowing “an SNP for Scotland to be heard” on national television. Yes the Scottish debates came after it, but it was the initial debates that had the biggest impact, and did the damage.
In hindsight Ed should have demanded separate debates, debating the Tories in England for an English audience and Scottish Labour debating the SNP in Scotland, for a Scottish audience. Again did Jim Murphy cause this? No, if anything he mitigated it by his excellent performance in the Scottish debates.
- The final reason is one which Neil Findlay has already eloquently addressed. Campaigning on the same platform as the Tories during the referendum was a colossal error for Scottish Labour. On voting day thousands of voters in Labour heartlands were still conflating Scottish Labour with Better Together. Many ex Labour voters were literally broken hearted when we decided to fight the battle with the Tories under one banner. And like someone who gets their heart broken, it can easily turn into furious rage.
That’s the impression I got having everyday conversations – our traditional voters were not just indifferent to us, they wanted revenge on Scottish Labour because of Better Together. Who decided that we should have campaigned with the Tories? I doubt very much this was Murphy’s decision, but again, he played a positive part in rectifying the damage. Apart from Gordon Brown, I can’t think of another Labour representative that campaigned so effectively during the referendum campaign.
If Scottish Labour were to push Jim out, it may please a few who despise him, but those few usually despise the Scottish Labour Party just as much. My opinion is that we members need to support Jim Murphy and give him more time. Five months is not adequate.
He has been criticised for not resigning – but the amount of pressure he is now under, compounded with the continuous online abuse he gets demonstrates his sheer mettle and commitment to the job. It would be very easy for him to quit, but 100 times more difficult to carry on. Scottish Labour is going through the biggest storm it has ever faced – we need an experienced and resilient captain to steer us straight.
5 thoughts on “Is it down to Jim?”
A useful analysis, one further point which I think is important to note. Scottish Labour is no longer has any real grass routes members. When I was doing my usual standing on polling stations, I noticed a marked increase in local people coming out and standing handing out leaflets all dressed in Saltires. In previous years you would be hard pushed to find a constant Nat presence on the polling stations. This simple thing probably does not influence the electorate when voting, but it is a shining example of one of the reasons we lost and have been losing support for years.
I read this morning that 2016 will be filled with people who have lost out at Westminister; whilst I agree some should definitely be standing for Holyrood like the excellent Tom Greatrex; but for the most if we adopt this strategy we will no doubt go the same way again. If we are to improve on our 2011 showing we need new people who are truly grass routes individuals who have not been promoted to the public via trade unions and former MP’s & Councillors. People who understand the concerns of the voters and can relate to them.
Steve. I noticed the same when I was at a polling station. We’ve done well in ‘guardianland’ but the people with whom and for whom the Party was founded have left us in great numbers. A year ago we were winning bye-elections with a swing from SNP to Labour. People were with us then. And then came the referendum. We thought that our traditional voters would just turn up out of habit. But they didn’t. Anas Sarwar, Gordon Brown and – yes – Jim Murphy fought a great fight. But we didn’t have the strong positive message about Labour, solidarity and sharing until Gordon stepped in at the last moment.
There was an opportunity to prepare a persuasive narrative and strategy in the two years prior to the referendum but nothing was done by our ‘branch office’ leader then. That was the big failure – and the five months that Jim had was never enough to turn it around, energetic as he was.
As for the future – as you say Steve – we need to find our leadership from below. It is in those communities where, as we saw, allegiance and enthusiasm has gone to the SNP, that our new standard-bearers need to be found
I’m critical of SNP simplistic propaganda but they do use it very effectively and they are shameless in trying to find messages that resonate with people. Ok much of it is straight from the Goebbels handbook ( repeat a lie often enough ….) but they deserve credit for their strategising, long term thinking and the way they connect this to simple catchy political messages. We could learn from some of it. (Ok not the lying !)
Look how they have pretty much appropriated the Saltire, Scottishness etc. We were asleep at the wheel as they did that.
One thing they do have massively better than Labour is party discipline. You don’t see many Nats coming out and publicly tearing into their party or its leadership. Their debates are internal and once they decide on a strategy they pursue it ruthlessly. In contrast Labour can sometimes seem like a bunch of drowning cats fighting in a sack. I still vote Labour but shake my head each time I do wondering when Labour will learn some of these important lessons.
Until a Labour leader, any Labour leader nails the constitutional question, we’ll be going round in circles.
Saying no no no to anything beyond the Smith Commission sounds bizarre.
Are Scottish voters not telling us Devo Max is the way they wish to go.
Exactly! Poll after poll show the majority of Scots want Devo Max! Can Labour not be the party to say “We’ll give you devo max!” You don’t need to go the whole hog! Home Rule was once a founding dream.. BRING IT BACK!
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