9 Dec 2014

Scottish Labour leadership contest and the general election

Voting in the race to be leader of the Scottish Labour party closes tomorrow and some claim echoes of the 2010 battle of the Miliband brothers in the Scottish contest.

David Miliband’s then campaign manager Jim Murphy MP thinks the unions are playing dirty to defeat him, just as he believes they did back in 2010 – monstering their own electorate with bossy leaflets backing his opponent that shake out of the envelope with the ballot paper. The unions’ members still have one third of the electoral college that elects the leader in Scotland, a device that was done away with for UK leader elections by Ed Miliband as part of his party reforms.

The man the union literature tells you to back, Neil Findlay MSP, believes he is closing in on the front-runner Murphy. Some of his supporters say he could yet, Ed Miliband-style, sneak victory when the votes are announced on Saturday. He thinks he was disadvantaged by the way nominating MPs and MSPs were named in the documents sent out to constituency members, boosting Jim Murphy’s standing.

Low turnout

But the truth is that this was always Jim Murphy’s contest to lose and he’s unlikely to do that. He has been tacking to the left from his old Blairite positions and shows every sign of planning to continue with that if he wins.

But what of the health of the party he and Neil Findlay are fighting to lead? (The third candidate, MSP Sarah Boyack, isn’t expected to poll very strongly.) One indication of that is turnout in this leadership election and I understand that turnout in the trade union section of the electoral college could be less than 10 per cent.

Masses of trade unionists in Scotland didn’t think the leadership of the party of the labour movement was worth the 30 seconds it might take to mark a ballot paper and seal a pre-paid envelope.

The turnout in the members’ section will be significantly better but some think it could reveal (if it was ever shared in absolute numbers) that Labour does not have anything like the 13,000 members it claims to have across Scotland.

‘Serious danger’

Paul Sinclair was top adviser to the leader of the Scottish Labour party Johann Lamont for the past three years and has been at the heart of the Scottish Labour party. He watched the Labour machine try to crank into operation in the referendum campaign from the cockpit of the No campaign. He was an adviser to Gordon Brown in Number 10.

Tonight on Channel 4 News, he tells us he thinks the Labour party is in serious danger of coming second to the SNP in Scottish parliamentary seats at the general election. That, he thinks, could trigger a situation that plummets Labour into even greater decline in Scotland as its claim to be the only party that can keep the Tories out of power in Westminster takes another dent.

He believes the party’s senior figures in Scotland have been all too happy to have low membership for years because it gave them the power to control events in a feuding and often inward-looking party.

Compare that with the meteoric membership surge of the SNP.

Last night, I visited an SNP branch meeting in Glasgow’s Kelvin ward. It sits in the Glasgow North Westminster constituency and is part of the old Hillhead seat that Roy Jenkins once won. It is psephologically famed for having the most educated electorate in the UK.


At a regular branch meeting last night, I watched members pour in from the cold outside. About 120 people were there and when I asked for a show of hands the vast bulk of them had joined since the referendum.

The membership numbers for this ward have rocketed from 310 on polling day in September to 1734 today. That’s a ward, a subset of a Westminster constituency, not the entire seat. How many members does Labour have in this whole seat? “They’ll claim it’s 200 but I bet it’s closer to 50 who are actually active,” one Labour source told me.

Well, if anyone ever gets back to me with official numbers for Labour membership in this constituency, I’ll let you know with an update at the bottom of this blog.


And, if you were wondering whether the less bookish citizens of Glasgow are following this trend, I wandered around Maryhill, just up the road, a classic Labour heartland under the old analysis. Voter after voter described Labour as having betrayed them, left them. They won’t win here again was the gist of it.

They might be wrong. Labour might be able to fight back. The SNP’s boost in support could melt away like the snow now on the hills you can see from the top of the Maryhill tower blocks. But, even if half the SNP’s new members got bored and drifted off, they’d still outnumber Labour here massively.

If Labour does lose its perch as Scotland’s largest party in Westminster, it could have massive consequences for its credibility and confidence in Scotland. It could be Scotland that deprives Ed Miliband of a majority or largest party status in Westminster.

What strikes me in this supposed Labour heartland is that quite a lot of the voters I spoke to here don’t greatly care about that any more. Some newspapers printed in London may portray Ed Miliband (inter alia) as a dangerous radical. In Maryhill I more often heard him described as “just like the Tories”.

When he took over the leadership of Labour four years ago, Ed Miliband decreed that the revival of the party begins in Scotland.” It has actually gone into reverse since then. The new leader of the Scottish Labour party has a little more than 20 weeks from Saturday to turn that around and the stakes could not be higher.

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27 reader comments

  1. Malcolm McCandless says:

    Scottish Labour are about the elect a Tory, Jim Murphy as their branch office manager.

    If Murphy put red lipstick on he would still be a Tory.

    Murphy even has Tory supporters as part of his campaign team, and Murphy supporters have recently been calling on Labour voters to vote Tory and the Lib Dems in seats being hotly contested by the SNP.

    Labour are an austerity party and are becoming just as toxic in Scotland as the Tories are.

    No wonder people feel betrayed.

  2. Don Baldo says:

    Hi Gary

    One possible explanation for the low Union ballot may be the massive growth of the SNP Trade Union Group, I have seen it claimed there are now in excess of 10,000 members.

    I wouldn’t write Labour off just yet, it still has The Daily Record on side which can still shepherd the majority of the faithful (however reluctant) to the ballot box for Labour next May.

    I’d still put money on the SNP winning the popular vote but Labour doing enough t hold the most Scottish seats.

    Meanwhile, Tories activists are openly helping Jim Murphy become Labour leader,


    A former Labour Provost of Glasgow is encouraging Labour votes in Gordon to vote Lib Dem…

    Ironically, given the Unionist bluster about a ‘Neverendum’, and just as the SSP finally accept there will be no YES Alliance next May, it is the Unionists who are now trying to form strategic voting alliances and who want to turn next May into a re run of the referendum.

    ‘Interesting times’ rather undersells what is happening in Scotland right now.

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    There is even more sobering news for New Labour.

    If, as looks likely, they are displaced in Scotland by the SNP the next step down will be steady erosion of their remaining support in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For which they can thank James Callaghan, Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and all their hangers on, fellow travellers and apologists.

    Electoral hell reserves a special place for those who sell out founding principles.

    Of more important concern is what this implies for the future health of democratic society in this country. At the present rate this will soon become little more than an economic Airstrip One for assorted tenth rate US and European thieves and gangsters, a de facto ur-fascist one party state run by jobsworth morons like Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and the rest of the motley Westminster crew. New Labour are part of that disgusting mob.

    Great and good Pastor Bonhoeffer once said, “I stopped arguing with the Nazis when they became too stupid to argue with.” Plainly, a hefty number of Scots feel the same way about the British political establishment. Hence Salmond’s notice that if Scotland doesn’t get the powers it wants it will simply take them.

    If Murphy fails to denounce New Labour and its nodding donkeys he will deserve all the rogering he gets. Nobody decent wants anything to do with them or their far right neocon policies. And that feeling doesn’t stop at the Scottish border.

    If Murphy wants be part of the corrupt New Labour soap opera that is a matter for him. But don’t be surprised if and when he gets dumped in the dustbin of history along with the rest of them. And, sooner or later, the tories and libdems.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    1. Michael Clayton says:

      There are no Nationalists so blind as those who did not see Alex Salmond sucking up to Donald Trump et al.
      Gary, Your reports for Channel 4 News are usually better informed, and display more dialectical reasoning, than this.
      Did the SNP Branch know you were coming – and thus could spread the word – even though less than 10% of the claimed membership turned up?
      Did you enquire if members pay a fee, or is the (claimed) large increase due to the filling-in of forms in public under duress?
      Perhaps the fee is paid by the notorious Lottery winners?
      Have you examined the membership records?
      Will you rerturn regularly in the runup to the May election to ascertain if membership and turnout for meetings ‘holds up’?

      1. Willie MacDonald says:

        The real blind yins are the tribal Labour supporters who hate the natz more than they uphold Labour values, what I refer to as the troglodytes.
        The troglodytes who forget who invited Trump into Scotland in the first place, that would be Jack “the lad” McConnell. This is the same party first minded numpty who under spent the Scottish block grant by £650,000,000 when he was FM and rather than spending it on services that could have benefited Scotland, say for example alleviating the excesses of child poverty that we suffer in this country he sent it back to his masters at Westminster. Of course it would be wrong to suggest that it is a coincidence that Jack is now LORD McConnell & riding the Westminster gravy train like most Labour poodles end up doing.
        I know that you are about to call me a dirty nat but I WAS a Labour voter and other than a few times voting tactically to keep out the blue tories I always voted for the Labour party, even after I saw through the pale red mask worn by that war mongering, imperialist Tory Bliar, however that is a mistake I will never make again.
        I am a socialist and will vote for a party that best represents my views and that will never be the vile red tories ever again.

      2. Willie MacDonald says:

        When will Labour reveal its actual membership?
        Or would that be detrimental to their claim to be Scotland’s largest political party?

      3. Andy Murray says:

        As one of said members present, yes we were aware with a couple of days notice that Gary would be there, but this was also the worst attended branch meeting since the referendum with others being around the 300 mark… Yes we all pay our dues by DD and no, no duress, I joined the tens of thousands who struggled to get through to join with servers crashing and emergency telephone lines having to be provided to handle the demand.

        I myself am an ex Labour member and your comments are indicative of the delusion and denials that have brought Labour to it’s knees in Scotland.

  4. Craig Macinnes says:

    There is NO such party as the Scottish Labour. It doesn’t exist.

  5. Lance says:

    Gary, your last point is possibly the most frightening of all. I’m no fan of Ed Miliband, however to simply lump everyone and anyone associated with the Labour movement as “just like a tory” would send shivers down the spine of many capitalists. Ed Miliband has moved the Labour party decisively to the left yet this has not shone through in Scotland. Admittedly this is a problem of Labour’s own making by repeatedly taking voters for granted and Gary’s blog accurately reflects this.
    The only unionist party to maintain it’s support base since 2010 is the ‘evil’ Tories so I don’t really know what that tells you.
    Another point is that 2 million people voted no in September, 400000 votes more than the yes vote. Why would those who voted no decide to vote for a separatist party?
    I think what we may find is that the SNP will gain most seats in the areas that voted yes, so Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and Dundee will all go SNP but the strong no areas may even see a swing towards unionist parties. We are not all communists up here i would like to point out.

    1. Dougie blackwood says:

      Sorry Lance. Was that to the left of UKIP? Both Labour and Tories espouse austerity, supporting the banks and punishing the poor. The QE program (Labour & Tory) would have been far better if they had thrown the money out of a helicopter. It would then have been spent, encouraging growth, tax and employment. The money wasted has gone into offshore accounts while more and more are not earning enough to keep up the UK tax income.

      1. Lance says:

        Dougie, I’m not going to sit here for one second and say that Labour have become more left wing and ‘power to the people’ in the last 2 decades, indeed I think the worst thing to happen to the Labour party was the election of Tony Blair as PM. It is a crying shame there is no-one of the calibre of Donald Dewar and especially John Smith around to cut through the nationalist lie that everything that has been wrong with this country will magically disappear with independence or even Alex Salmond’s nonsensical view of federalism (do you know why the problems within the beloved EU came about?).
        On your point on the banking system, this is a generalisation, to say that any country in the world, never mind Scotland, could simply stick two fingers up to the global banking system is clutching at straws, surely the best way to take on vested interests is as part of a bigger group?
        It is also extremely simplistic to say that every penny raised from QE could have went towards some sort of new deal/stimulus program. After all, QE means to print money, the only thing I can think of Germany circa 1922 and that didn’t end too well!
        I admire your confidence and enthusiasm that a new communist utopia can be established right slap bang in the middle of a capitalist world (before you mention TTIP – this is an EU/USA trade deal, if that goes through Scotland will be a part of it whether you like it or not).
        Apologies for going slightly off topic but addressing your points made.

      2. Dougie Blackwood says:

        Lance, you are obviously a unionist that believes; I see it the other way. Scotland has subsidised and supported UK every year (except 1) where records have been published. Right back to 1900 Scotland has been a net contributor to UK with the single exception of the year before the referendum. This is mostly time before oil was discovered.

        Why do you think the panic set in when the polls showed the Yes campaign creeping ahead. Scotland’s exports prevent the balance of payments going down the plug hole; Scotland’s oil revenue taxes have kept us from joining Greece. Westminster is run for the benefit of London. As Vince Cable said, it’s a giant suction machine drawing talent and resources from the rest of these islands.

        Scotland and the West Midlands were the powerhouse of the UK economy until manufacturing was destroyed in favour of financial services by Margaret Thatcher. The financial services industry is now run and managed by thieves that are only interested in bonuses and profits that can be screwed from their customers.

        All of these things will never change under the control of either Tories or the present Labour Party. The only solution is to go our own way and leave Westminster to sink in the morass of greed they have created.

      3. Andrew Dundas says:

        Interesting observations, Dougie.
        But where did you get this wealth transfer information from?
        Our key issue in Scotland is that our birth rate is so low that our population is becoming older and older. And that about a third of what we sell to anyone goes down south. Which all makes us rather dependent on the UK economy. For the time-being of course.
        Which would you prefer: rule by Merkel’s Euro regime that’s brought stagnation and mass unemployment to the Eurozone, or our low wage jobs’ growth within the Sterling zone?

  6. Alan M Johnston says:

    One very important factor not yet picked up on by the London based media is that the women of Scotland are now coming together, organising ,holding meetings all over the country,mainland and islands,and they are determined not to go back to the sofa ,as one elderly lady put it.They are now a very energised force and will,I believe, drive Scotland to Independence.

  7. Drew Campbell says:

    Neil Findlay is an unknown nonentity who, even if he carries the trade union vote, cannot hope to carry the Scottish Labour MPs or even his fellow MSPs.

    Jim Murphy’s “tack to the left” is cynical as it is risible: His stated policy of a 50% tax rate for 16,000 people earning over £150k would, he claims, net £250 million. That’s an extra £15,626 in tax from each of those high-earning individuals, an unbelievable yield even if no-one changed their tax arrangements which, of course, they would. Yet not one journalist has called him on this – not a single one.

    If you get the chance, try asking him the question, Gary – then watch him unravel.

  8. Willie MacDonald says:

    “He has been tacking to the left from his old Blairite positions and shows every sign of planning to continue with that if he wins.”

    Have you got the same dealer as auld trippy Osbourne?

    Murphy is a far right Bliarite, neoliberal, thatcherite, war mongering, zionist supporter. He had the nerve to call himself a socialist & then went on to be photographed hugging & campaigning with Annabel Gouldie in Clydebank of all places. I really do hope that Labour elect that cretin as branch manager as he will be the final nail in the coffin of the self serving party that used to represent the labour movement.

  9. Greg McCarra says:

    Hi Philip

    The membership of the SNP Trade Union Group exceeded 13,000 several days ago. We are now larger than the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party’s official membership total, and probably more than twice the actual total.

    Cllr Greg McCarra
    Executive Member, SNP TUG

  10. cameronsdemise says:

    This Grey voter won’t help murphy’s plan in the slightest ! I wizened up 60 yrs ago ! Now Helping the SNP’s Cause is a different matter !

  11. Robert Gibbons says:

    Hi gary im a 57 year old scot and proud to be a scot ive allways in my lifetime voted labour my dad was.labour and my family.labour when labour joined conservative party against Scotlands vote of independence it was the final nail in the coffin ill never vote labour till the day I die corrupted by the tory party

  12. Barney Crockett says:

    and yet..
    The truth is that the raison d’etre of the SNP, a separate Scotland, is a bust. There is no hope without keeping the pound which is off the agenda, there is no hope with oil miles under the claimed break even of $112 dollars, there is no hope without large scale inward migration which can’t happen unless the UK allows an open border to a country with a very different immigration law.
    Like Mark Twain, rumours of Labour’s death in Scotland or elsewhere are much exaggerated.

    1. Willie MacDonald says:

      Are you this Barney Crockett?
      Who along with the despicable Willie Young was known as one of the most vitriolic and tribal haters of the Nats.

      Which would go a long way to explain your misrepresentation of the economic case for independence. Oil was not the cornerstone that it was described as by the british nationalists, even without oil Scotland’s GDP was 99% of the UK average (FT figures). With oil at pre-crash prices GDP was 119% of UK average, so even now our GDP would have been above the UK average. Besides all the oil economists I’ve heard speaking say this is temporary and prices will rise again as they always do.

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Hello Willie,
        Many people will understand your frustration with the referendum result. It was intended to be divisive, and it was. 1.6 million voted to break with the Union and 3.6 millions did not.
        Which brings me to the point of my real sympathy with your grief. In 1944 (when I was born) there were 5.2 million people in Scotland; at our 2011 census there were 5.25 million. While the UK total grows, our country is not growing because our birth-rate has fallen by an half and more and more of our people are pensioners.
        Population growth nowadays is within an area bounded by Paris, Milan, Frankfurt and the London suburbs. There are outliers: Leeds has one of the fastest growing populations in Europe, but largely because it’s become a cheap back-office for London businesses.
        Developing our highly technical oil fields has attracted in-comers to our Eastern cities who we need, but these are mostly transient workers who presence does not solve the problem of our ageing population. Whose pensions we cannot afford on our own.
        What we need to do now, is apply some political energy to considerations of our future, rather than our past.

      2. Dougie Blackwood says:

        I’d like to pick up on the population thing. Scotland’s population is not growing as we would like but there are more reasons than birth rate for this. There are about as many people in the world of Scots descent as any other small nation. Over the years of the union Scotland has always been the “branch office” and ambitious people had to leave to make their fortune.

        In recent times the Scottish government have wanted to encourage our foreign graduates and others to set up home here, start businesses and grow the economy. The xenophobic tabloid press and UKIP politicians have driven the Westminster governments, of whatever stripe to make every effort to prevent managed immigration. Now the only way foreigners can get here permanently is in the back of a lorry. The lunacy of our graduates being denied an extended visa and immediately being sent home is only an example.

        An independent Scotland can easily manage population numbers to meet the support requirements for a population that is thankfully living longer.

      3. Willie MacDonald says:

        I will be putting as much effort into anti-Labour campaigning as I did to campaigning for Scottish independence in the run up to the GE.
        As the red tories have shown themselves to be the biggest barrier to social justice in Scotland, they are only interested in what benefits the party and in the case of #creepyjim what benefits himself.
        I along with many thousands of others have no intention of stopping now we have become engaged with politics.

  13. David Pow says:

    Those who live in the hope that the move towards the SNP will fade away are kidding themselves. The Labour Party has for many years been listening less and less to the people who for generations had been voting for them. The growth in nationalism not just in Scotland but it England to has shown how much out of touch the traditional parties have become. Many political reporters admit that in Scotland independence will come it’s only a matter of when. The refurendum wasn’t lost by the Yes campaign it has motivated the silent majority into action. I am proud to say I got my SNP membership card yesterday.

  14. Andrew Dundas says:

    It is sensible to learn how other countries organise income taxes at State and Province levels. We might even learn from their long experiences.

    Germany, the USA and Canada each have Federal taxes that are largely disbursed to individual states of their federations according to assessed needs: mostly census data. States/Landa/Provinces are entitled to add-on their own individual state taxes rather than collect some proportion of the overall federal tax. That method ensures a degree of predictability and is much more efficient than seeking to collect each State’s taxes from out of a total. My view is that Scotland (which is 8.3% of the UK) should seek and follow their advice about tax collection. And each Province/State has its own sales tax too.

    Were Scotland to follow Jim Murphy’s suggestion of restoring the highest income tax rate to 50%, that could be done so much more simply than by Scotland building it’s own separate tax system. There is a problem of defining exactly who is a ‘Scottish tax-payer’ when there’s so much movement to and fro over the borders. But that’s just another problem all federal systems share.

  15. R.Loughran says:


    I am a former Labour voter living in Glasgow and like many people in this city i will never vote for them again.

    The sight of Labour politicians standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories during the referendum campaign was the last straw for me.

    If Jim Murphy,as expected wins the leadership contest tomorrow,that will be the final nail in the coffin for Labour in Scotland.

    In the days after the result i could have slunk away which i’m sure would have suited Labour but i made the decision to join the SNP,become active and continue to believe Scotland will become independent. It is only a matter of time.

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