Saturday, 13 December 2014

Murphy wins. Sky fails to fall in. Three cheers.

Jim Murphy is, thankfully, the new leader of Scottish Labour.

If you were to believe Tom Watson MP or Len McCluskey, leader of Britain's largest trade union, you would be convinced that this is a major disaster, the beginning of the end for Scottish Labour. But it is not. The sky is still up there, stubbornly refusing to fall in.

There was a straight left-right fight for the first time in quite a while within the party: and Scottish Labour chose, as the 2005 general election campaign called it, "the future, not the past".

It is more likely, as we observed here a few weeks ago, to mean the beginning of the end of Scottish Labour as we know it. To mean the end of Unite's stranglehold on parts of Scottish Labour (see Centre Lefts passim). And, just as importantly, a more outward-looking party, which actually reaches out to the Scottish electorate as the SNP has done, rather than treating them as an inconvenience to be endured. This is the first piece of good news.

The second cheer is that this is exactly the kind of party, in fact, which might do a good job in repelling the SNP's advances in May and avert the kind of meltdown in the Scottish section of the Parliamentary Labour Party which many have been predicting, based on its awful current polling. Murphy should be judged on how the polling improves over the next five months, not the number of seats Labour wins.

And the third is this: that there is finally a centrist politician back in a position of real power within the Labour Party. There is now a little hope for all of us that a bridgehead has been established, an influence which can help steer the party back towards common sense and to where the voters are.

Finally, and satisfyingly, we might note that Unite's ham-fisted attempt to fix things in favour of their preferred candidate, Neil Findlay, clearly backfired: Murphy ended up with nearly 40% of the affiliates section, which is dominated by the big unions, to Findlay's 52%. Not a bad result, given that all the major union leaders nominated Findlay over Murphy, bar two.

Murphy has not got an easy job on his hands; Scottish Labour has been slowly atrophying for decades and his victory can scarcely hope to achieve much before the election in May. 

But it may well after; not just in the 2016 Scottish general election, but in the health of the national party as well.


STOP PRESS: I was reminded, checking an old Guardian piece from the time of the Falkirk disaster, that the good members of Scottish Labour have not just rejected the preferred candidate of the Unite leadership

They have selected one who actively set himself against that leadership, who stood up to it. That, alone, is a hugely significant change.

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