28 Oct 2014

Can Jim Murphy save Scottish Labour?

 Jim Murphy is expected to declare his candidacy for the leadership of Scottish Labour in the next 48 hours. He will have to win in the three-part electoral college system that Ed Miliband decided was discredited and had to be reformed for the UK leadership elections.

That means getting the support of party members (probably straightforward as fame normally gets you a long way in one member one vote campaigns). It means getting the support of trade unions – Unite and Unison would dearly love to kill off his challenge. Then there’s the elected MSP/MP/MEP section.

MSPs now have one of their own to choose from – Sarah Boyack, who announced her candidacy today. They could have another added to the list. There is pressure on MSP Neil Findlay to stand.

One Labour shadow frontbencher accused Mr Murphy of acting like “a reluctant bride” but Mr Murphy is working hard behind the scenes to make sure he has the team and strategy to withstand some predicable assaults.

Firstly, he has to look like he has heard the anti-Westminster attacks that dominated much of the Scottish referendum. He must show commitment to a devolved parliament that has until now not lured him.


Senior colleagues are convinced he is working out a deal that could see him job swap (electorate willing) with an MSP who would stand down to run in Jim Murphy’s Westminster seat at the General Election next May allowing Jim Murphy to run in the vacated Holyrood seat in a by-election, maybe even on the same day.

There’s also talk of Jim Murphy making sure the leadership understands he must strike out more dramatically on powers for the Scottish parliament. Again, fellow MPs say that would be a new tune for him to sing. But they think he is realistic enough to recognise that the referendum has left Labour’s position on devolving more tax-raising powers as seriously exposed, moving slower than the rest of the pro-union convoy.

Some commentators say he has too much Blairite baggage to carry off the job. But I found fellow Labour MPs  who’ve had plenty of criticism of Jim Murphy in the past suggesting he could re-cast himself ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections.

But the more immediate challenge for Labour is the general election. The party needs energising and organising in constituencies where the yes campaign stole Labour voters in the referendum in September. There is “panic” in the leader’s office, according to some in Scottish Labour, that a critical number of seats could be lost to the SNP in the general election on the back of the yes triumphs in the central belt seats.

One fellow Labour MP said the successful exponents of devolved power across the UK – Rhodri Morgan, Ian Paisley, Boris Johnson, Alex Salmond amongst them – showed that you need big self-esteem to carry off the job. “He certainly doesn’t fail on that score,” the MP said.

Nominations close a week today.

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