From today’s Daily Record:
SHELL-SHOCKED Scottish Labour are planning their biggest shake-up in 100 years in a bid to take the fight to Alex Salmond.
Proposals by MP Jim Murphy will go before their ruling executive committee today which could “transform” the party. The blueprint is the result of a four-month review led by Murphy and MSP Sarah Boyack following Labour’s crushing defeat in the Holyrood election.
Insiders who have seen secret presentations by the pair say the plans amount to Labour’s biggest shake-up since 1918.
But some changes could prove so controversial with sections of of the party that there are no guarantees the committee of MPs, MSPs, union leaders, local party bosses and others will give their approval when they meet in Glasgow today.
Under the radical plans, Scottish Labour would:
● Loosen ties with the UK party.
● Appoint a Scottish leader – who might not be an MSP – with unprecedented powers to shape policy and plan strategy north of the Border.
● Kick out long-serving MPs and MSPs and train a new generation of “top notch” candidates.
● Reconnect with the business world.
● Haul themselves into the 21st century by using social media for campaigning.
A senior source said: “Not everyone will like it. Everyone will have to give up something as part of this. But it is about preparing Scottish Labour for the referendum and the election after that. We assume that there will be a referendum and that’s what we are going to be ready for.”
The source added: “We’ve got to be more ruthless and disciplined. We have to put forward an exciting vision for Scotland that people want.”
Despite their heavy defeat, Murphy and Boyack do not believe Labour are a “toxic” brand like the Tories – but they do see change as essential if the party are to bounce back and challenge Salmond.
At the heart of their blueprint is a move to cut ties with the UK party.
It is expected to be backed and will see the Scottish leader take control of the whole party north of the Border for the first time. Heading up a new management board, he or she will gain unprecedented powers over policy making, election strategy and hiring and firing key staff. They will set policy in all areas devolved to the Scottish parliament, recognising the present informal arrangements.
The move is a major change. Although current chief Iain Gray is known as the “Scottish Labour leader”, he is only officially in charge of the party’s MSPs.
The set-up has prevented the party fighting on a united front in the past. Labour’s head of communications, for example, and other top officials in Glasgow work for UK party leader Ed Miliband rather than Gray, causing confusion.
Even more damagingly, the structure has allowed bitter rivalries between the Holyrood leader and senior Westminster figures to split the party.
In another big change that is expected to win support, Labour’s network of constituency parties will be reshaped. At present, local parties are based on 59 Westminster constituencies in Scotland. In future, they will follow the 73 seats in Holyrood. There are practical reasons for the switch, with the Tory Government about to abolish seven Scots seats – but the move will still prove controversial.
Our source said: “MSPs will now be king of the castle locally.”
Insiders admit the change could cause real resentment among MPs but say it is a sign in “six foot neon lights” that Labour needed a bigger focus on fighting Holyrood elections.
Scottish Labour’s ruling executive committee are expected to rubber-stamp those changes. They will also have to be approved by the UK party at their conference in Liverpool at the end of the month – but it is understood Ed Miliband is happy with the plan and will not attempt to block it.
A figure close to the leadership said: “They just want it fixed. They want us to do a job up here.”
In another vital decision, the party’s executive committee will also consider allowing a wider range of candidates to stand for leader. At present, the Scottish leader must be an MSP. But the executive committee will consider opening the contest to other parliamentarians – MPs or MEPs – or to all party members. One MP, Tom Harris, has already said he wants to throw his hat in the ring – but the decision on whether to open up the leadership is still too close to call.
It is understood there are no plans to move to a “one member one vote” election, though there may be minor changes to the present complex system which gives MPs, MSPs MEPs and unions a big say in the outcome.
Scottish Labour will also launch a drive to train a new generation of winning candidates. Plans to be unveiled next month are likely to include a “candidates college”. The move is designed to prepare candidates to retake the once-safe seats that tumbled to the Nats in May. The search for new blood could also involve a cull of long-serving MPs and MSPs – although the Scottish election has already removed most of Labour’s “old guard” from Holyrood. A similar proces has already begun in Glasgow city council, where half of Labour’s 50 members are being sacked after tough selection interviews.
A source warned: “Councillors are first. They will not be the last. We need to be able to get new people into the parliament who are top notch. The councillor issue sends quite a message.”
Murphy and Boyack want next year’s council elections to begin a “recovery process” for Labour. Above all, Labour are determined to thwart Alex Salmond’s goal of seizing control of Glasgow, a coup that would make the SNP look unstoppable.
In other initiatives, Labour want to reconnect with the business community who were proud to endorse the party just a few years ago. Closer ties with business leaders would help the cash-strapped party raise vital funds.
They also want to match the success of the SNP in using social media for campaigning. The Nats employed a new media guru in the last election to get their message across on Facebook and Twitter. But a Labour source admitted: “We did not even have a Facebook page at the last election.
“The election result was greeted with shock and anger by our activists. People worked harder than we’ve ever worked before. They did not blame Iain Gray personally but the team generally.
“There was also feeling that MPs, MSPs and councillors did not work together. It’s vital we change – simple as that.”