The con has finally been exposed. There is no such entity as the Scottish Labour Party. Jim Murphy hasn’t killed it because it never existed and he'll ensure it never will.
When Johann Lamont resigned, complaining that London treated Scottish Labour like a branch office, she was merely conceding what many already knew. The so-called ‘Scottish Labour party’ was a myth. It was dreamt up in order to combat the growing support for the Scottish National Party.
Like the BBC [in Scotland], the Labour party merely placed a kilt around a northern section of a London controlled organisation. Labour needed to offer an identity sufficiently distinctive from the UK party in order to combat the SNP's claim to be the only party that focused entirely on Scotland's interests. It worked for a while with Jack McConnell probably the most effective ‘leader’ of the mythical beast.
However over time a lack of real authority became apparent. McConnell struggled when UK Labour endorsed new nuclear power plants. In September 2006 the then First Minister was forced into a U-turn on the issue in order to bring ‘Scottish Labour’ into line with its UK parent.
McConnell was sidelined during the 2007 Scottish election campaign. He was eventually brought in at the eleventh hour when polls showed Alex Salmond’s SNP running neck-and-neck. The one seat victory for the SNP was the start of the decline of Labour in Scotland. The 2011 majority SNP win was eclipsed by the General election result last week which saw Labour’s Westminster representation virtually wiped out north of the border.
The mirage that is ‘Scottish Labour’ was finally exposed when Jim Murphy emerged from his bunker in order to announce his intention to remain leader of the branch office … for a month. In what must rank as one of the most bizarre resignation speeches ever, the man who was the architect of Labour’s annihilation told waiting reporters that he would compile the blueprint for the future of the branch office.
Yep, you got that right. Jim Murphy will dictate the structure and direction of the ‘Scottish Labour’ party before he hands over to his successor. This is what is known as a puppet regime. One in which the person in charge isn’t calling the shots.
Murphy is a product of London Labour and ‘Scottish Labour’ is a product of Murphy. This nonsense claim that he had only five months in charge is just that, nonsense.
In May 2011, days after Labour was humiliated in the Scottish election, Murphy headed a review of the party in Scotland. The report was delivered in September 2011. Speaking at the time, Jim Murphy said the Labour party in Scotland needed to "emerge from the rubble of its disastrous election campaign".
"Structures in themselves don't win us elections, but this, the biggest change for 90 years, marks a fresh start for the Scottish Labour Party.
"People lost faith with us because we lost connection with them. Scotland has changed and now it's time for Scottish Labour to change too."
Ironically, the review had to be signed off by the UK Labour party’s national conference. Thus, the ‘Scottish Labour’ creature that was crushed last week was designed by the man who now claims to have merely inherited it from other less able leaders.
Murphy’s own stint as leader was down to a rule change he himself advocated as part of the 2011 review. It was Jim Murphy who, along with Sarah Boyack, proposed that the 'Scottish Labour Party' could now be headed by an MP. Previously the role had been restricted to MSPs. The rule change allowed Murphy himself to succeed Lamont after the latter resigned.
Murphy wielded significant influence over Labour structures and policies in Scotland for years before he became leader. His announcement that he will spend his last four weeks before he tenders his resignation drafting a plan to reform the party is jaw-dropping.
It also destroys forever the myth that there is a political party called Scottish Labour. What party anywhere in the world would allow the individual responsible for a near electoral wipeout to bind the hands of his successor? It simply wouldn’t happen. It is being allowed to happen because Scottish Labour doesn’t really exist. Indeed if it was a separate entity then Ian Murray wouldn't be automatically entitled to call himself Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.
Murphy’s plan may be more about maintaining London’s grip of Labour in Scotland than any desire to save a party that doesn’t really exist. In fact with only one Labour MP against 39 MSPs, there is a good chance that a real autonomous Scottish Labour Party could be ready to emerge. This is what lies behind Murphy’s month long resignation. He wants to re-establish a London powerbase.
Murphy himself has said he won’t stand in next year’s Scottish election, but there’s been nothing from the other 39 Scottish based ex-Labour MPs. Are we really expecting people like Douglas Alexander and Tom Harris to remain in the political wilderness for the next five years? It wasn’t that long ago that Harris saw himself as a potential leader of Labour in Scotland.
But there’s a snag for any ex-Labour MP who sees Holyrood as a replacement for Westminster. Scottish Labour has already completed the selection process for May 2016. The Labour candidates for Holyrood 2016 are already in place.
When he carried out his last review four years ago Murphy handed the ‘Scottish Labour Party’ power over the rules for the Scottish Leadership election, local government processes and selections, and Scottish parliament selections. Is it possible that we are witnessing the beginnings of a mini-coup? Could Jim Murphy be planning to change the rules again in order to force a contest in some key constituencies?
Labour's candidate for the Musselburgh constituency in 2016 is Bernard Harkins. In Cunninghame South the Labour candidate is Kilwinning councillor Joe Cullinane. Both may be hard working and honourable men, but with people like Douglas Alexander, Tom Greatrex and Margaret Curran currently twiddling their thumbs, is Labour in Scotland really going to ignore key members of its former 'A' team?
I may be way off the mark. But it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Murphy is laying the ground for some ex-MPs to be shoe-horned into Holyrood constituencies. Such a plan would introduce real political muscle into the Holyrood Labour group. It would also ensure London gained a foothold in the Scottish Parliament at a time when Nicola Sturgeon’s Government is engaged in a major constitutional struggle with Westminster.
All well and good you may say, but what’s in it for Murphy? I suspect a peerage of some sort for his services. Murphy is now as toxic in Scotland as the Tory party. The former Secretary of State gambled his career when he took over from Lamont. It was a gamble he lost spectacularly. All that remains for him is the House of Lords.
Jim will look after Jim until the end. That’s what he’s good at.
GA Ponsonby is the author of 'London Calling: How the BBC stole the Referendum'.
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