We react to the result of the Scottish Labour Leadership election, won by Jim Murphy and where we have to go next.
Something that the left wing of the Labour party is not renowned for is it’s organisation, but in the six weeks of the Scottish Labour Leadership election-this has changed somewhat, as left wingers young and old and old and new came together to support Neil Findlay and Katy Clark in the leadership and deputy leadership elections respectively. For a while, it looked like it might just happen. The Findlay-Clark campaign was fought positively and forced opponents to adopt the radical policy agenda that Findlay-Clark had been putting forward. Being on the phones to members was interesting and it was generally positive for Neil and Katy. We genuinely believed that we could win this, given that most of the affiliate trade unions supported Findlay and Clark and even Murphy’s own union- GMB- supported Findlay over Murphy.
So where did we go wrong?
Undoubtedly, Murphy’s charisma and personality won him this election. His prominence and dedication throughout the referendum campaign helped to win him a lot of support from within the party. During this leadership election, Jim Murphy has almost sounded like a social democrat, using language that someone on the left of the party would be expected to use, preaching ideas that, five years ago, would have been considered radical in the Labour party, such as eradicating inequality and making Scotland “the fairest nation on earth”. However, for the left, ideas and intellectual thought have often taken more precedence than how charismatic a leader is. The language that Murphy has been using-sadly- has little foundation or is anything more than rhetoric. Murphy simply has to come up with policy ideas to win over the left wing of the party, who have viewed his Blairite past and support of nuclear weapons with suspicion.
For many people, this wasn’t a test of ideas. It was a contest of personalities. In that contest Murphy was very much seen as the victor. It appeared that not many people voted for Murphy because they agreed with him politically and loved nuclear weapons as much as he did, but they knew him, they had heard of him and many people saw him as a security blanket. Findlay is a relatively new MSP from the 2011 intake who didn’t set out to be a politician. He was a teacher. He was more surprised than anyone of his election in 2011. Since then, Findlay has been championing causes that many would expect all Labour politicians to be behind, such as campaigns against blacklisting of trade unionists, the mesh surgery scandal and supporting miners who were convicted by the police. These and his involvements in groups such as Campaign for Socialism, CLPD and the Red Paper Collective make him a popular figure amongst the Labour left. But he simply wasn’t well known enough. His face wasn’t well -kent.
Crucially though, Findlay and Clark’s position and ability to run in this election should be seen as an achievement for the left. Where a few years ago, left wing candidates couldn’t even gather enough signatures to run for positions of leadership, we now have a coalition of trade unionists and socialists willing to organise and push for a left wing policy agenda. It was Findlay who first announced that Labour has to outflank the SNP from the left and only an eejit would disagree otherwise. Can we do that with Murphy?
We need more than flowery, progressive sounding rhetoric from Murphy and actual, solid policies. We need Murphy to stop worrying and plotting how he’s going to try and get himself a seat at Holyrood and use the Scottish Policy Forum effectively this time round. If Murphy is also serious about pursuing a democratic socialist agenda then he must, crucially, work with his opponents and allow them to have influence over policy making decisions. He should also try to distance himself from Better Together. The organisation is toxic for many people and his continued allegiance will not win back any former Labour voters.
Lastly, Murphy has a political skill. Murphy won a large majority in 1997 in Eastwood-once a safe Tory seat and remains very popular. He was also part of the New Labour project, that did admittedly change the electoral fortunes of the Labour Party. But the Labour party has been too consumed and obsessed with electoral success. To gain electoral success-the Scottish Labour Party has to gain political and ideological success with a newly politicized Scottish electorate.