“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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty