Jim Murphy’s election: a view from inside the Labour Party

The pro-independence left have written off the Scottish Labour Party, writes Jim Monaghan – but polling figures for left of Labour parties are tiny, and we need unity to fight austerity and war.

Photo: Scottish Labour Party

Photo: Scottish Labour Party

The election of Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader will have a profound effect on Scotland’s current fluid political landscape. From optimistic cheers from Labour members, expecting a rebirth of the party in Scotland, to doom and gloom predictions of the result meaning an acceleration of the death of Scottish Labour. Both are probably based on wishful thinking more than evidence.

Murphy represents the Labour Party that has become a focus for much of the left-leaning aspects of the YES campaign in the referendum, a party of foreign wars, privatisation and Better Together (BT). This image is the most damaging for Scottish Labour and it is one that the Better Together campaign fostered. In Westminster, Ed Miliband has worked hard to minimise the Blairite influence – the major figures of that era have been pushed from main roles in his shadow cabinet. Miliband himself was against the Iraq war and that was a major factor in his election as party leader, primarily from trade unions. He has since surrounded himself with others untainted by those dark days, almost all of his shadow cabinet were elected in 2010. Better Together allowed Alistair Darling, Murphy, Douglas Alexander, Gordon Brown and others to have centre stage in that debate, undermining efforts to shed Labour of the Blairite image here in Scotland.

In fact, Murphy’s leadership challenge was, essentially, an extension of the Better Together campaign. He had more or less the same team of people, his launch event even used the BT email address as a contact. The staff at BT were employed till the end of this year but got an early advance on that, paid off in advance just before Murphy launched his campaign, allowing them all to volunteer for Murphy on the back of what was essentially Tory funding. There is no doubt that this will make it difficult if not impossible to make any inroads into the votes Labour lost to the SNP over the last 4 years. Whether his election will kill Labour is another matter – it depends very much on how he reacts to the results and the clear message from members.

The voting system for the party leader in Scotland splits the electoral college into three sections.  Each section – the parliamentarians, the direct membership and the affiliate members in trade unions and co-ops –  is allocated a third of the votes. This gives a heavy bias to the wishes of 80 MPs, MSPs and MEPs, equal to the voting power of the total membership, which in turn has a favourable bias over the union members, who have vast numbers compared to the other two sections. Overall Neil Findlay had the most votes cast – this is significant, as it means that attempts to portray the Labour membership as a dead movement who won’t support a progressive set of policies would be wrong. It also means that Murphy has to try to carry those members with him if he is to get the party behind his leadership.

The candidacy of Neil Findlay alongside Katy Clark standing for deputy leader was a major breakthrough for the left in Scottish Labour. In recent years, even getting enough nominations to stand a left candidate has proved impossible, and attempts by Elaine Smith in Scotland and John McDonnell at UK level failed at the first hurdle. The nominations and support for Findlay and Clark is a reflection of a significant number of people in the party recognising that the SNP’s claim to be a left party or a party of social justice is just the “Emperor’s new clothes” and that Labour must respond to the electorate and take on the SNP from the left. Findlay’s platform was pro-public services, including taking all of the PFIs back into public control, a huge national programme of housebuilding, creating 50,00 council houses and, significantly, Findlay’s clear opposition to the renewal of Trident.  It’s clear that the overall membership of the wider party were behind such a radical programme. Murphy would ignore that at his peril.

The Scottish left need to take notice of this too – recently the move towards nationalism by the Trotskyist left and others have led to them being uncritical of the SNP.  New polls show that, despite the important role played in the referendum campaign, despite the huge numbers RIC can pull to events, the electoral benefits all belong to the SNP, with the Greens polling lower than previous elections at 3%, and the whole left combined looking at less than 1% of the vote.

The pro-independence left have written off any and all of the Labour Party, unless it is members who share their view on the constitutional question. The campaign for Findlay and Clark demonstrates a significant force for progressive politics within the Labour Party that they shouldn’t ignore.

If we are to build an effective left opposition to austerity, war, inequality and nuclear weapons here in Scotland, the radical forces in the country must unite behind policies and campaigns rather than pin their hopes on any specific electoral vehicle at this stage. Supporting an incumbent government who haven’t had a single wealth redistribution policy in 7 years, who support tax cuts to “grow” the economy and are fully behind the EU project would be a retreat. It’s clear that we don’t have a left electoral vehicle in Scotland and there isn’t one on the horizon. It’s time to build the movement away from electoral and constitutional arguments and unite the forces for change outside of parliaments. We cannot afford to narrow membership of that campaign to those who support independence.

The Labour leadership campaign has, despite the disappointing result, shown clearly that Scottish Labour contains as many or more who seek the same reforms and programme as the pro-indy left, we should be grateful for Findlay and Clark’s intervention for reminding us of this, and build on the information and evidence it has provided for us as a movement. The left in the Labour Party need the support of the wider movement, radical Scotland need the members of that group on our side. This result should be used as a platform to build on, not an excuse to use Labour’s woes to benefit the SNP.

Jim Monaghan is a Labour Party member who supported a YES vote, a former parliamentary researcher for Solidarity and was employed by Scottish Labour in a press and strategy role in the run up to the 2012 council elections. He is a member of UNITE and the Campaign for Socialism.


For an alternative view, see Jim Murphy’s election: a death sentence for Scottish Labour?

There are 8 comments

  1. Francis

    Would love to campaign with you but it sounds like we would be campaigning for Findlay and Clark in some future leadership election against Dugdale.

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  2. Will McEwan

    If Labour in Scotland is to enjoy any revival it first of all has to face the fact that it has ceased to exist in terms of significant membership in many areas. What we have is a handful of people talking to each other while nobody else pays any attention. That situation suited the complacent caucus that runs it, untrammelled by any inconvenient dissent.`The election of Jim Murphy, a very divisive figure, is a gift to Labour’s enemies. The MSM will of course ignore the real condition of Labour in Scotland,doing Labour no favours by doing so.
    I believe the actual paid up political membership of Labour in Scotland is now below 4,000. This makes them no more than a front to be used via the media by the unionist right wing establishment to deceive the Scots. That is of course the part they played fronting a Tory campaign in the Referendum.
    The Labour Party in Scotland is uniquely the only supposedly radical left wing movement to have stood against the independence of its own people.
    It is paying the price

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  3. Jim Monaghan

    paid CLP membership is 13,000 last year, like all other parties the referndum led to a rise in membership, as did the leadership election when a few peopl rejoined to back Neil and Katy, so it will be higher than 13,000 now. Afiiliate membership through unions and co-ops is, I believe, 360,000 in Scotland at the last count.

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  4. Jim Monaghan

    Will, at the last count, last year CLP membership was 13,000 and affiliate membership through unions and co-ops was 350,000. And there are cetainly not the only left party that doesnt agree with independence, not even in this country, The Communist Partry were against a YES vote. Though it is an unfair comparison as most other ‘independence’ movemenmts will be national liberation movemenmts from colonial control, not movements to establish a neo-liberal democracy to propmote Scottish capitalism over Uk capilaism with a Queen in charge and under the umbrella of NATO

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  5. Francis

    Jim,

    I just don’t see how you can have a go at comrades in independence movement for promoting neo-liberalism when the Labour Party have elected Jim Murphy as its Scottish leader. How are you able to reconcile the fact that you will be asking the working-class to back what (you and I know) will be a corrupt Blairite clique? Even if this clique manages to get more votes than the SNP, will we be a step closer socialism or will we witness a Blairite demolition of Scottish public institutions in the name of ‘patriotism’ or however Murphy will try to package it to the Daily Record?

    You are asking people not to campaign for Labour but a faction within Labour. Getting the vote out for a right-wing psychopath is just part of the fun. Seriously, I just cannot understand why you bother.

    You’ve got nae chance now mate, but good luck all the same.

    F.

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  6. Simon Midgley

    Jim, you say:

    “The voting system for the party leader in Scotland splits the electoral college into three sections. Each section – the parliamentarians, the direct membership and the affiliate members in trade unions and co-ops – is allocated a third of the votes. This gives a heavy bias to the wishes of 80 MPs, MSPs and MEPs, equal to the voting power of the total membership, which in turn has a favourable bias over the union members, who have vast numbers compared to the other two sections. Overall Neil Findlay had the most votes cast – this is significant, as it means that attempts to portray the Labour membership as a dead movement who won’t support a progressive set of policies would be wrong.”

    Surely this just shows how the Scottish Labour Party is deliberately stitched up to entrench the control of MPs, MSPs and MEPs, backed up by Trade Union bureaucrat ‘leaders’ wielding block votes, so that the Labour Party leadership machine will always predominate, no matter how many at the ‘grassroots’ might want more left-wing leadership or policies.

    So long as the energies of those who want to fight for a better society are channeled into the dead-end of the Labour Party as “the only game in town”, their efforts will be in vain. That is why the growth of a radical left outside of the Labour Party during and after the referendum is a positive development, not a negative one. The choice, in future, will no longer be simply Labour Party or SNP.

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