2014 closed with the election of Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale as leader and deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
Murphy won 56% of the total electoral college vote (split three ways between: MSPs and Scottish MPs and MEPs; individual Labour Party members; affiliated trade unions), against 35% for left-wing challenger Neil Findlay. The third candidate, Sarah Boyack, won 9%.
In the deputy leadership election Kezia Dugdale won 63%, against 37% for left-wing challenger Katy Clark.
Murphy and Dugdale both won clear majorities in the elected representatives’ and individual members’ sections of the electoral college. But both lost in the trade union section of the college.
Given that the media had declared Murphy and Dugdale the ‘front-runners’ from the outset, picking up over a third of the vote was a more than credible result for both Neil Findlay and Katy Clark This is true even though there had been an expectation that the high profile campaign they ran, backed up by hundreds of rank-and-file Labour Party and trade union activists, would have produced a closer result.
This expectation was shared by the Murphy camp. The weekend before the close of voting Murphy felt obliged to put put out a statement promising “radical policies”. On closer inspection, of course, the policies were not radical at all.
The same weekend Margaret Curran, Labour’s Westminster spokesperson on Scotland, publicly endorsed Murphy — even though established protocol is that the Westminster spokesperson remains neutral in Scottish Labour leadership elections.
Murphy is a very right-wing and very Blairite career politician. His base of support consists of:
Fellow right-wing careerist Labour politicians at Westminster and Holyrood who look to Murphy to protect their careers by miraculously reversing the collapse in Labour’s electoral support in Scotland.
Labour councillors who can rely on Murphy to excuse and justify their record of implementing cuts.
A small group of right-wing (as opposed to pretend-left) trade union bureaucrats, concentrated in the main in Community and USDAW.
The more depoliticised and less politically minded layers of the individual membership of Scottish Labour.
A faction in Scottish Labour Youth whose natural political home is the Conservative Party but who have ended up in Labour because the low level of electoral support for the Tories in Scotland means that it is a not a viable mechanism for pursuing their careerist aspirations.
Murphy has nothing of any political value to offer to the Labour Party in Scotland.
He thinks that the Scottish Labour’s basic problem is that it has never been subject to a proper Blairite “modernisation” — despite the fact that the Blairite ‘modernisation’ of the Labour Party cost it around 66% of its membership, two trade union affiliations, and five million voters.
He thinks that Scottish Labour can beat the SNP by presenting itself as the real “patriotic party” of Scotland although posing politics as a matter of “who best represents Scotland’s interests” plays into the SNP’s hands.
He thinks that the Scottish Labour constitution should be rewritten so that it enjoys more autonomy from the Labour Party nationally. There is a case for this proposal. But in Murphy’s hands it amounts to a proposal to transform the Scottish Labour into his personal fiefdom.
He thinks that the way to “overcome” Scottish Labour’s problems after the referendum is to argue that no-one should turn their back on the party because of a one-off vote one day in September, instead of mapping out a positive programme for social change on the back of the “no” vote.
He thinks that the way to rebuild Scottish Labour membership is by offering cut-price membership — £1 a year — rather than by offering some decent politics.
The left in the Labour Party and the trade unions in Scotland should follow up the leadership contest by organising a Scottish Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (SCLV) in preparation for May’s general election.
The political basis of that SCLV would be along the lines of the policies advocated by the left candidates in the leadership contest. This would facilitate winning affiliations and support for the campaign from the Scottish CLPs and trade unions (and trade union branches) which backed Neil Findlay and Katy Clark.
Materials produced by the SCLV could be used in constituencies where the Labour candidate had signed up to the campaign, and SCLV individual supporters could target their election campaigning activities at those constituencies.
This would maintain the momentum created by the leadership contest, provide a clear left-wing case for a vote for Labour, and consolidate a left bloc of individual Scottish Labour members, candidates and elected representatives and sections of the trade unions.