“Can Scottish Labour, under Murphy, learn to think big?”

So Jim Murphy, a machine politician from his very earliest days in the NUS, takes over the helm at Scottish Labour. He has an unenviable task ahead of him. The Yes campaign may have won the #IndyRef battle but the unionist parties now show every sign of terminal weakness in their war for the future of the Union.

Of all the popular and rising parties on these island, the SNP has the highest base polling figure. Salmond has skillfully combined opportunism and populism with a track record of competence in office to make the SNP is a formidable foe for Labour.

The latest ComRes Poll has the parties on CON 16%(+1), LAB 27%(nc), LDEM 3%(-1), SNP 47%(+4), GRN 3%(-1), UKIP 3%(-3). 

Eric Shaw a Labour party member and a Senior Lecturer in Politics at University of Stirling lays out just one of the tasks ahead for Murphy…

The institutional position of the leader has also been rather insecure. For whatever reason, successive leaders were unable to use the power of patronage or control over party resources to consolidate their position. And their power bases were primarily networks of friends and allies held together by personal connections rather than by shared principle and outlook.

So Murphy’s task will be to construct a coalition, both within Holyrood and in the wider party, which will afford him solid and durable support in the testing times ahead. He made clear during his campaign that he will seek to bolster the post of Scottish Labour leader, both vis a vis the party in Scotland and the UK-wide power structure.

After his predecessor Johann Lamont’s biting criticism about Scotland being little more than a “branch office” to London, not to mention the SNP’s surging support, he arguably had little alternative of course.

He also lays out the medium term challenge…

A besetting weakness of Scottish Labour has been its pragmatic, unimaginative and ad-hoc mentality. It has exhibited little willingness, aptitude or capacity to widen its angle of vision or think in terms of stories and narratives. It has resorted to the tropes of old-style Westminster adversarial politics which, to many voters, smacks too much of bickering over minor issues or personalised name-calling.

It has done little to present an alternative unionist version of the SNP’s self-confidently social-democratic vision of an independent Scotland, which is what needs to do now. For all its faults, New Labour understood how to build a narrative and develop strategies with clear goals, policies to achieve those goals and institutional mechanisms to see that everything was on track. In short, can Scottish Labour, under Murphy, learn to think big?

It’s interesting to note that the early money has not yet deserted Labour in terms of their battleground Westminster seats. And Iain Martin at least gives Labour points for choosing the right kind of leader, ie one who clearly understands just what a deep hole the party is standing in:

Mr Murphy is a formidable opponent who understands their party’s potential vulnerability. Labour will now have a leader determined to put the SNP on the spot over its failures in areas such as education. Mr Murphy will try to present the Nationalists as constitutional obsessives who are much happier whining and demanding ever more powers than getting down to the difficult work of using those that the devolved parliament already has.

Maybe so. But the narrative of ‘five pledges’ seems, at the very least, a little undercooked, even if some of it is already familiar from Mr M’s soapboxing days on the Referendum stump. Eric Shaw’s is the larger question is one hanging over Murphy, Labour and the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom.

Not least because all the SNP need to do to keep moving forward is to maintain the dream of independence a credible possibility.

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  • mjh

    That’s the second poll to give the SNP around a 20% lead – enough to win them all bar 3 or 4 of the Westminster seats in Scotland. And while this may mean that the party has peaked too early, having reached a heady level from which the only way is probably down as we approach the General Election, its hard to see all of that extra support evaporating in less than five months.

    I’m actually more impressed by the surge in SNP membership since the referendum. By late November it had risen to over 90,000 – up from 25,600 in mid September. It takes real enthusiasm to actually join a political party and suggests that a substantial proportion of their extra support will stick. So the gamblers who reckon that Labour will only lose 4 seats to the SNP look as if they will lose their money.

    Jim Murphy sounded impressive on the radio yesterday, but realistically the best he is likely to achieve is to limit the damage in May and lay the foundations for a five year fight back afterwards.

  • Ernekid

    There was a great piece on Wings Over Scotland that reckoned that the number of paid up members of the Scottish Labour Party has fallen to around 7,000 members maybe less.

    That means that in terms of membership the Scottish Labour Party is smaller than the Scottish Greens who have around 8,000 members.

    The SNP reckon that they will pass 100,000 members before May. Anyone who has gotten involved in Grassroots politics at elections knows that elections are won by a Parties membership, canvassing and leafleting. The SNP have an Army. Jim Murphy is no Hulk.

    Murphy is a careerist, Blairite, Trident supporting, anti devolutionist, austerity loving, right winger who is hated by the Unions.

    It’s safe to say that Scottish Labour is fecked.

  • leoinlisbon

    There are interesting parallels between SLAB old Ulster Unionist Party. Both claimed to represent the whole community, though in Northern Ireland that did not include Nationalists. Both exercised massive political power on the back of minimal political effort – in terms of campaigning and winning elections. Both lost contact with the urban working class. Both ended as husks; superficially strong but hollowed out. Both ended up dominated by mediocrities – not that their leadership had ever been anything to write home about. Both failed to realize that an insurgent party was about to overwhelm them.
    From this perspective, Jim Murphy will face an uphill task turning things round.

  • kensei

    You’d think there must be some reversion to mean before the election, particularly if it is tight. The vagueries of FTP mean it’d depend on where it settles but you’d reckon the SNP would be a player in a hung parliament.

    2015 is probably more interesting though. The idea the SNP could get a second majority is utterly insane.

  • ted hagan

    I don’t get the impression Murphy is trusted very much among Labour supporters

  • mjh

    Yes, the 20 point lead for the SNP does look like one of those giddy highs often enjoyed by opposition parties in mid term, which then melt away as the General Election approaches. On that analogy we would expect some reversion to the mean, and on balance I still do. But this could be different.

    For one thing the analogy has two major weakness. Firstly, governing parties have the power to implement popular measures before an election. Labour does not.

    Secondly many former supporters return to a government party at an election because they become more concerned with the changes the opposition party might make if elected. In this case the SNP has categorically ruled out any deal with the Tories. So a vote for the SNP in Scotland is a vote for a Labour led UK government, but with the maximum Scottish influence. With the Independence issue settled for the immediate future even strongly pro-union left of centre voters might be tempted.