Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour leader

On the morning of 8th May, Jim Murphy quoted Ernst Toller, who died on 22nd May 1939:

“It is not seemly for you to Mourn,
It is not seemly for you to delay,
You have received a legacy soaked in the heart’s blood of your brothers.
The pregnant deed waits for you.
…Wide burst the gates of bright morning.”

Jim MurphyMurphy went on to say:

“Last night was gloomy for Labour. This morning as the sun rose we were hurting. But in a morning like this, before too long. We will bounce back. We will again be the change that working people need.”.

Does Jim Murphy have a hope?

On 8th May, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg both resigned. (So did Nigel Farage, but not Natalie Bennett.) But Jim Murphy didn’t resign: instead he declared his intention to lead Scottish Labour to the May 2016 elections, when he still wants to become a MSP and First Minister of Scotland.

In December 2014:

“I have given a commitment that I will be in the Scottish Parliament in 2016 and Labour candidate for first minister by 2016.
“I’d like to be there sooner than that and in terms of how we do that, of course I will let my constituents and constituency party know first.
“But there is a cast iron guarantee to be a candidate in those elections, if not before.”

Ian Davidson, formerly MP for Glasgow South West, said in the early hours of 8th May, shortly after losing his own seat to SNP MP Chris Stevens:

“He was elected as party leader on the basis that he was an MP. Only MPs and MSPs can stand for the leadership.

“Morally, as the man who has led us to the biggest ever disaster that Labour has suffered in Scotland … of course he can’t continue. The process of rebuilding the Labour Party has got to start with an examination of both personnel and ideas.

“And therefore Jim has got to do the honourable thing and resign. I’m sure once he has got time to reflect, he will do that.”

Jim Murphy’s response to that was that the rules [which he and Sarah Boyack wrote together in 2011] only say you have to be an MP or an MSP to stand in a leadership election: he’s already won the leadership election, so he doesn’t have to quit just because he lost his seat. (Murphy had said this as far back as January, where he told a Buzzfeed News journalist: “At the time you stand for leadership, yes. Don’t read anything into this – I’m just telling you the rules, I know where this answer gets you to. But it’s just at the point you stand you have to be a parliamentarian.” That was the interview where he also said his SNP opponents were “sluggish, lethargic, and off the pace” and he was astonished by how easy it was to outdo them.)

Aslef, the train drivers union, and Unite, have both called on Jim Murphy to resign. Pat Rafferty, the leader of Unite in Scotland, said:

“It is time for change at the Scottish Labour Party. That is the overwhelming, unambiguous message from Scotland’s people, including its trade union members, on Thursday. Either Scottish Labour rediscovers its mission as the natural voice for social justice in our nation, or irrelevance and ultimately extinction looms.”

There was a massive, literally unprecedented swing to the SNP all over Scotland on 7th May. Detailed analysis will happen over the months and years to come, but it’s clear that though in some places the SNP were getting the formerly-LibDem vote, and the fairly high turnout says that a proportion of those voting had never voted in a General Election before, still: in some places the SNP were clearly benefiting for a swing from Labour – and they were certainly getting votes from people who had voted No in September. I think one of the problems Labour will have in trying to understand this collapse of their party will be a pre-existing certainty that this was a nationalist/pro-independence swing (and the promotion by some of the 45-ers of the same thing). It’s entirely relevant that Labour voters/No voters had been told with assurance by Nicola Sturgeon that if they voted for the SNP this time, this wasn’t a vote for independence.

As both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have tried to make clear to the English media, the next independence referendum would be decided on at Holyrood, though it may well be affected by the current government’s actions at Westminster: the Conservative party’s press appear to think that the Union will be saved by teaching those pestilent Scots to know their place.

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King.

Was it Jim Murphy’s fault?

Can Jim Murphy be held morally responsible for Scottish Labour’s downfall on 7th May?

Certainly he was not as directly responsible as Nick Clegg was for the downfall of the Liberal Democrats: while Len McCluskey of Unite warned Scottish Labour as early as November 2014 that Jim Murphy was part of the problem and therefore couldn’t be a solution, Jim Murphy wasn’t individually responsible for the Labour and Westminster decisions that led to the rise of the SNP, though he was from his earliest days in politics, part of that team.

At the time when Jim Murphy was elected leader, the polls were already indicating a victory so massive for the SNP that I was personally convinced the polls must have got it wrong. But in Scotland, the polling was consistently accurate. All that Jim Murphy can fairly be held responsible for during the six months he’s been leader of Scottish Labour is that those “sluggish, lethargic” opponents had already got 50% of the votes in Scotland and Murphy couldn’t turn that around.

There are three tranches of votes in a Labour leadership contest: the union/affiliates vote, the membership vote, and the votes of the MPs, MSPs, and MEPs. Jim Murphy got over 55% of the vote in the first round: he got overwhelming support from the MPs, MSPs, and MEPs, majority support from the Scottish Labour party membership, but failed to win a majority of the trade union votes: trade union/affiliate membership preferred Neil Findlay. In the overall contest, Neil Findlay came in second place and Sarah Boyack came in third.

Ian Davidson, by the way, voted for Neil Findlay in first place and Sarah Boyack in second place and didn’t vote for Murphy at all.

Of all the MPs who voted for Jim Murphy as their first-preference candidate, only Ian Murray kept his South Edinburgh seat. Twenty-nine MPs who wanted Jim Murphy (including Murphy himself) can now only vote as Scottish Labour party members: Douglas Alexander, Willie Bain, Gordon Banks, Gordon Brown, Russell Brown, Tom Clarke, Margaret Curran, Alistair Darling, Thomas Docherty, Brian Donohoe, Frank Doran, Gemma Doyle, Tom Greatrex, David Hamilton, Tom Harris, Jim Hood, Michael McCann, Greg McClymont, Jim McGovern, Anne McGuire, Ann McKechin, Iain McKenzie, Jim Murphy himsef, Pamela Nash, Fiona O’Donnell, John Robertson, Lindsay Roy, Frank Roy, and Anas Sarwar – they all wanted Jim Murphy to lead the party and they have all lost their seats.

Who’s left to vote if another Scottish Labour leadership contest is to be held soon? An MP, 38 MSPs and two MEPs. (The two Labour MEPs also used their first-preference votes for Jim Murphy: David Martin and Catherine Stihler.)

There are 21 MSPs in Holyrood who voted for Jim Murphy with their first preference vote: Jackie Baillie, Richard Baker, Claire Baker, Jayne Baxter, Neil Bibby, Kezia Dugdale, Iain Gray, Mark Griffin, James Kelly, Ken Macintosh, Hanzala Malik, Jenny Marra, Paul Martin, Margaret McCulloch, Michael McMahon, Siobhan McMahon, Duncan McNeil, Anne McTaggart, Graeme Pearson, John Pentland, and Richard Simpson.

Seven MSPs voted for Neil Findlay with their first-preference vote: Jayne Baxter, Patricia Ferguson, Neil Findlay himself, Hugh Henry, Johann Lamont, Alex Rowley, Drew Smith, and Elaine Smith.

Six MSPS voted for Sarah Boyack with their first-preference vote: Jayne Baxter, Claudia Beamish, Sarah Boyack herself, Malcolm Chisholm, Margaret McDougall, and David Stewart.

So he still has majority support – if no one’s changed their mind – among the surviving parliamentarians.

And he may well still have majority support among the Labour party membership: it was only six months ago they chose him. If both parliamentarians and membership still approve Jim Murphy, the trade union vote can’t unseat him – if he refuses to resign.

In a report in the Sunday Herald on 10th May: Brian Donohoe, former MP for Central Ayrshire, “criticised Murphy for changing the party’s constitution earlier this year to include a reference to patriotism. – “That was total and absolute tokenism.” That is the sharpest public criticism by any MP who voted for Murphy with their first-preference vote. (But an anonymous “senior Labour MSP” said “It’s absurd he’s even considering staying. He’s about as popular as herpes.”)

Michael Connarty, former MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who voted for Murphy as a third-preference: “I think he should go. I don’t think that Jim is far enough away from the past to give us a future.”

What if Jim Murphy refuses to resign?

There are 2 MEPs, 38 MSPs, and 1 MP who could stand as candidates for the position of Scottish Labour Party leader. As Jim Murphy has declared that the rules only specify you must be a parliamentarian when you stand for the leadership, in principle either of the two MEPs could stand for the leadership and then resign their seats in the European Parliament if they won. (That seems unlikely, but it would be within the Murphy interpretation of the rules.)

If Ian Murray stood as leader, the Scottish Labour party could at least be sure he’d still be there after May 2016. But as the sole Scottish Labour MP at Westminster, Ian Murray can fairly claim he’d have too many other demands on his time to focus on campaigning in Scotland for 2016.

I would guess that Kezia Dugdale either stands with Jim Murphy as his deputy leader or quits when he does.

Of the 37 other Scottish Labour MSPs, Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack have to consider that they already stood for the leadership contest six months ago and were rejected by half the surviving parliamentarians at that time. Iain Gray and Johann Lamont are also unlikely candidates.

Of the 33 remaining possibles, there are seven with a particular interest, the Labour MSPs both constituency and list of the West Scotland region. If Jim Murphy is to have a hope of becoming an MSP in May 2016, he needs to stand as a candidate in the West Scotland region: he would probably also insist on having a high place on the West Scotland regional list.

But if Jim Murphy is dropped in at the top of the West Scotland list, unless he achieves a much higher share of the vote for Labour than in 2010, he displaces one or more of the current regional MSPS, either Neil Bibby or Mary Fee or Margaret McDougall (depending how they were placed on the list below Jim Murphy). Mary Fee didn’t vote in the leadership election. Margaret McDougall used her first-preference vote for Sarah Boyack and her second-preference vote for Neil Findlay and didn’t vote for Jim Murphy at all. Neil Bibby did pick Jim Murphy with his first-preference vote, but again, does he really want Jim Murphy for leader enough to sacrifice his own chances of becoming an MSP?

The Scottish Parliament constituency of Eastwood corresponds most nearly with Jim Murphy’s old Westminster constituency of East Renfrewshire, and has a Labour MSP, Ken Macintosh, who used his first-preference vote for Jim Murphy: does that mean he’d be willing to step down in May 2016 and let Jim Murphy stand for election there? We’ll see. There are three other Renfrewshire MSPs, two SNP and one Labour: Hugh Henry, the Labour MSP for Renfrewshire South, used his first-preference vote for Neil Findlay and only his third-preference vote for Jim Murphy. (The other Labour MSPs in the West Scotland region also both chose Jim Murphy for their first-preference vote: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, and Duncan McNeil, Greenock and Inverclyde.)

But my guess is that at least those 7 Labour MSPs will prefer that if Jim Murphy stays on as leader, he doesn’t go on their regional list and they will be strongly advising him that he should contest one of the SNP MSPs in Renfrewshire North and West or in Paisley: if he wins that’s a gain, if he loses he hasn’t displaced one of them for nothing. We’ll see.

Should Scottish Labour have a leadership contest now?

For all the Labour MSPs who could challenge Jim Murphy and probably take his job, there’s a question: will a change of leadership really improve Scottish Labour’s position enough to make any real difference for May 2016? If Jim Murphy’s leadership will make a bad situation worse, won’t the complications of forcing Murphy to resign and holding another leadership contest also make a bad situation worse?

UK Labour lost the economic argument to the Tories in 2010: while Labour were busily choosing their next leader, the Tories and LibDems were as busily setting the lie going that it was Labour’s spending that was responsible for the 2008 economic crisis. Should Scottish Labour spend the next few months arguing over who’s to lead them now?

What each one of them who might actually want the job of Scottish Labour leader are likely asking themselves: would it not be simpler, rather than waste another candidate for leadership on a losing game, to let Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale run with it, and expect them both to resign after May 2016 – especially if Jim Murphy still doesn’t have a seat?

Neil Findlay’s resignation from the Shadow Cabinet yesterday was, he made clear, not to stand for Scottish Labour leader if Jim Murphy quits:

The problems of the Scottish Labour Party are wide ranging and deep. Radical solutions are needed and can only be implemented following a full, frank, open and democratic debate led by our loyal and hard working, committed party members – a centralised fix just won’t do.

I want to play a full part in that debate and in rebuilding our party from the grassroots up. I feel I can only do so if free from the constraints of being a member of the Shadow Team. I have therefore today submitted my resignation from the Shadow Cabinet.

Neil Findlay’s right. But which of the 33 Labour MSPs who’d have to stand up and take Jim Murphy’s place is willing to do it?

If Jim Murphy knew the context of that Ernst Toller poem he quoted, he knew that Ernst Toller, a German Jewish refugee, died in New York City, committing suicide two years before the US entered WWII. Murphy may see himself as the leader of a party temporarily in exile, needing only hope and courage to hold on.

An American friend wrote of the refugee poet’s death “Ernst Toller, the anti-Nazi dramatist and poet. He had been unable to adjust himself to what he saw as a life in exile and which need not have been one at all-had he only waited.”

But if Jim Murphy was intending to draw historical parallels, I can’t help thinking that Louis XVI and the flight to Varennes is more apropos.

2 Comments

Filed under Politics, Scottish Politics

2 responses to “Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour leader

  1. kailyard rules

    The Blairites are said to be regrouping south of the border so Murphy ( a Blairite no matter what strip he wears ) may garner some kind of moral? support from there. All are toxic. Really what Labour needs is an all inclusive sweep-out with a “maoist broom” and a return to basic socialist principles.

    • keaton

      I’m not sure “Maoism” is a huge vote winner in Nuneaton.

      Labour’s problem now is that they can only win elections in England when they have a Blairite leader; if they do get a Blairite leader, the SNP will win in Scotland; and if the SNP win in Scotland, England will vote Tory to prevent a Lab-SNP government. They’re trapped.

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