Scotland needs Jim Murphy (even if he doesn’t want to go back there)

Scottish Labour must have a strong, centrist leader to avoid giving in to the SNP’s intolerant lefist agenda

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

There should, by rights, have been a stampede of candidates to replace Johann Lamont as the leader of the Scottish Labour party. With the new powers promised to Holyrood, the Scottish First Minister promises to be a more powerful figure than most of the Cabinet. Only the holders of the great offices of state will be more influential than the occupant of Bute House. Labour might well trail the SNP by a large margin in the Holyrood polls, but their position is by no means hopeless.

But since she decided to step down, there was silence. After days of deliberation Jim Murphy, the shadow international development secretary, has now thrown his Tam o’Shanter into the ring along with two MSPs: Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack. Murphy is the frontrunner but he took his time to decide – which is odd when one considers the weakness of his position in Westminster.

Murphy was one of the managers of David Miliband’s leadership campaign, and has never been quite forgiven by Team Ed. He’s been demoted from shadow defence secretary to shadow international development, where it is almost impossible to score any runs because of the level of agreement between Labour and the coalition. The high road back to Scotland should be the noblest prospect that he has ever seen.

It is depressing that devolved office should be seen as a resting place for those who fall down Westminster’s greasy pole. When the Tory leadership was trying to push Boris Johnson into going for the London mayoralty it had to use a reshuffle to make it clear he wouldn’t obtain great office under David Cameron.

It is not as if quitting Westminster need be the end of your national ambitions. Boris Johnson will return to the Commons at the next election and in a far stronger position than if he had never left. It is hard to believe that this magazine’s former editor would be the bookies’ favourite to be the next Tory leader if he had stayed in parliament. He also would not have had the chance to demonstrate that he can run things. Indeed, if Murphy wants to be the leader of the UK Labour party, as some of his admirers and detractors suggest, his best route runs through Holyrood.

But the state of Scottish Labour would give anyone pause about taking on the job. It is reaping what it sowed in the 1980s and 1990s, when it denounced the Tories as fundamentally un-Scottish and as tools of London’s cruel economic agenda. Labour now finds the same rhetoric thrown back at it by the Nationalists. Unsurprisingly, these attacks have had the most success in the Labour heartlands, where this narrative took hold most strongly under Thatcher.

Every parliamentary constituency in Glasgow voted ‘yes’ to independence in the referendum. Now the SNP is determined to redouble its effort in west central Scotland. Its new leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is a Glasgow MSP and a far more conventionally left-wing politician than Alex Salmond. She might not be his match in some areas but she is far better suited to prosecuting this charge into the Labour heartlands.

Many in Scottish Labour, and particularly in the union movement, want the party to move left to counter this threat. Unite and Unison even decided to stay neutral in the referendum as a warning to Labour that it could not take their support for granted.

If Labour did this it would endanger its seats in middle-class Scotland. Its great achievement in 1997 was to add constituencies such as Edinburgh Pentlands, East Renfrewshire and Stirling to its traditional strongholds, leaving the Tories without anywhere to hang their hat. If Labour dashes left in pursuit of Sturgeon, they will create an opportunity for the Tories. Murphy, who won East Renfrewshire — once Scotland’s safest Tory seat — in 1997 will understand the risks of such a strategy. By temperament, instinct and ideology, he is a realist. He is on Labour’s reformist right and it is impossible to imagine him trying to fight on any other ground than the centre. This is why Unite and the Labour left will oppose his candidacy vigorously. Last year, Len McCluskey, secretary-general of Unite, warned that if Miliband was ‘seduced by the Jim Murphys’ of this world he would be ‘defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history’.

Murphy has what Scottish Labour needs so badly: energy, no fear of the SNP and the ability to win elections. The pro-union campaign often seemed devoid of passion and willing to cede the street theatre of the campaign to the Nationalists. But no one could find Murphy guilty on these counts. His tour of Scotland on Irn-Bru crates was a bravura performance that showed a determination not to be intimidated. It succeeded in exposing the Nationalists’ ugly underbelly; the sight of him being met by mobs determined to shout him down provided a chilling preview of how dissent would be treated in a Nationalist-run Scotland.

Almost as impressive was how Murphy succeeded in winning East Renfrewshire in 1997 on a 14 per cent swing and then turning it into a safe seat; at the last election, he secured 51 per cent of the votes cast. Senior Scottish Tories admit that Murphy will be the MP for East Renfrewshire for as long as he wants. But, they are surprisingly optimistic about their chances if he stepped down.

As a Blairite and a hawk on the Middle East, Murphy will face industrial quantities of abuse. The Nationalists will try to portray him as the ultimate bogeyman.

But if he had not run, he’d have been leaving the fight to lesser politicians – and risked ceding Scottish politics to the Nationalist left and their agenda. This is a risk that Labour cannot afford to take. The party has never gained power at Westminster without winning in Scotland. And with Murphy at the helm, it is far more likely to start winning again.


Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Tim Morrison

    Surely an endorsement here should destroy a Labour candidates chances

    • William Haworth

      ‘Vote Murphy, the Tories’ favourite’. Doesn’t immediately look like a winning slogan for Scottish Labour, but it might grow on them.

  • fred finger

    I saw him pilot the ‘Lisbon Treaty/ EU constitution’ through Parliament. He showed he can take the a bill, lie about it’s aims, claim the voters do not require a referendum, and without any conscious, get it passed . A true politician.

    • swatnan

      Just the man we want tobanhe drum for Scotland; a real diplomat.

  • UnionJihack

    Why is this so difficult?
    Jim Murphy needs to be the next Scottish Labour leader simply because he is a NO man. Having a YES candidate, or someone who could even remotely be tempted to side with a future YES campaign would be oil on fire.

  • starfish

    James you are telemachus and I claim my £10

  • Dusty01

    Bring on the numpty ! The electorate will judge him fairly.

    Go on show us what you’ve got Jim.

  • Henry Hooper

    Very amusing article. I did laugh out loud, but just the once.
    Labour are a gonner with this Murhpy, he’s universally hated – or don’t you know?..i suspect thats why the Spectator support him so much. Oh the irony and joy of watching the demise of the Scottish Branch of the Labour Party being bludgeoned to insignificance then surely death by their partners in crime the Tories, the original Tories

    • Inverted Meniscus

      And yet you still lost the referendum vote. Ha, ha, ha, ha ha ha, ha etc etc etc.

      • Dusty01

        Quite correct Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom, but how United and what kind of kingdom will this ‘Family’ become?

    • The_greyhound

      he’s universally hated?

      Try to remember that you speak only for the gullible minority that supported salmond’s cynical power-grab. Most people in Scotland like and respect Murphy.

      Now boil your heid.

  • Shuggy

    Murphy’s tour of Scotland on Irn-Bru crates was by no means a one-man show. Far from being “met by mobs”, the small audiences were outnumbered by his own entourage. The group who had a problem with him were mainly members of the Orange Order whose support had been rejected by the Better Together campaign and even they weren’t “determined to shout him down”. Supporters of independence tended to just ridicule him.
    But don’t let that prevent you from lazy journalism –
    “…the Nationalists’ ugly underbelly”?

    Oh gosh, yes, someone planted an egg on his shoulder – chilling indeed. It certainly made him run away. Very fast.

    Still, his theatrical overreaction has earned him a new nickname – H’omelette.

    • The_greyhound

      It’s amusing to reflect that all the spite the nationalist minority direct at Jim Murphy merely reflects the fact that they’re afraid of him. All the SNP have got is that whey-faced shrew who used to make salmond’s tea.

      Only another 307 years to go.

  • bengeo

    But, what about his hair colour?

    • jesseventura2

      Chris Bryant’s hair dresser?

  • E Hart

    In the absence of anything of value in the electoral narrative, many are now donning their red capes and skipping all the way to grandma’s house unaware that a big bad wolf has swallowed her up. Anyone who imagines that Jim Murphy is any kind of saviour should be reminded that he and the National Union of Woodcutters were what drove them to grandmas in the first place. The End.

  • rjbh

    We are gonna tear the pants of Murphy to see if he has a Penis, then we will Judge him, and throw whats left to the dogs.

    • The_greyhound

      Just like you did on the 18th September?

      Impotence thy name is nationalism.

  • Eliz McIntosh

    Before eulogising Mr Murphy for winning East Renfrewshire shouldn’t we check whether the boundaries of the constituency were changed in 1997. I lived in what was East Renfrewshire constituency in the 70 -80s but found myself in a different constituency in 1997, I think. The redrawn constituency included the town of Barrhead which was a traditional Labour voting area. If the boundaries were redrawn to include this former industrial town then Mr Murphy may not be the magician you think but rather the beneficiary of boundary changes.

  • jesseventura2

    Murphy is a photo copy of the Rhondda chief cottager Chris Bryant?

  • Terry Field

    This is an article grounded in foolishness.
    I listened to Salmond on Marr.
    I listened to Sturgeon a couple of days ago.
    Then I listened to this Labour bloke Murphy.
    Oh dear, he is like a bath of cold water. Then a bed of nails.
    Grim, dour, cadaver-like, clearly bitter and his silly points about Salmond were sub-schoolboy.
    I could be a more effective Labour Leader than this clown. Yes, he is that bad.
    As a Tory, I would enthusiastically encourage him to Lead Labour in the Land of the Fried Marsbar. Bring him on! Then carry Labour off at the polls.
    The truth is simple. Labour is no longer mainstream; its ideas, its people, its motivations are niche, and really rather nasty,

  • John Carins

    Murphy doesn’t have the support of Unite in Scotland. As we saw with Miliband’s selection Union support was vital despite the better candidate. So poor old Jim might find it difficult just like David Miliband did. Same old Labour.