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.