Can Murphy and Dugdale resurrect Labour’s fortunes in Scotland?

Labour Party logoSo, we know that Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale will be the new leadership team for Scottish Labour. Murphy won the leadership with 55% of the vote and Dugdale won the deputy post with 63%.

The result was announced at the Emirates – the one in Glasgow, not, as I initially thought when I was told yesterday, the one in London. But Labour wouldn’t be so stupid as to announce in London when their last leader quit after complaining that Scotland was treated as a branch office.

Murphy is a Big Beast, having been part of the last Labour government for 9 years. He was a staunch Blairite and, of course, voted for the Iraq war and all of Labour’s authoritarian policies from ID cards to 90 days detention.  A pro-war blairite seems hardly in keeping with the zeitgeist, it has to be said.

He’s a deeply polarising figure. It’s hard to see how he can unite the Labour Party, let alone the country. His rhetoric way back when he was Secretary of State for Scotland was divisive and he’s continued in that vein. In 2010, he described the divide between Labour and the SNP as Patriots vs Nationalists, language which I find at best unhelpful, at worst irresponsible. I wrote back then about how wrong I felt it was to use patriotism as a political weapon. Particularly when our country is recovering from an emotionally bruising referendum, it’s even more nasty, brutal and irrelevant than ever. Even combining it with the word “optimistic”, as he did this morning, makes me feel queasy.

He’s also someone who has said he wants faith to play a bigger part in politics just like it does in the US. No thanks. Really.

We can look forward to a deeply uninspiring few months until May with Murphy and Salmond involved in an aggressive, uninspiring shouting match which Scotland needs about as much as a vampire needs sunlight.

However, if Murphy shares the stage with Dugdale, it’s possible that Labour could recover some ground. She is one of the most articulate advocates of both feminism and social justice I’ve come across and had an excellent referendum campaign. She’s also a co-founder of the cross-party Women 50/50 Campaign which aims to achieve a gender balanced Parliament.

Much depends on whether they can develop a coherent policy platform and can reach out to those Labour voters who have drifted off to the SNP. They can’t do much worse than they are projected to do at the moment.

Murphy and Dugdale have massive internal challenges too. The referendum exposed the Labour Party’s shambolic lack of organisation in its heartlands which they’ll be hard-pressed to recover for May against an affluent SNP with all its 92000 members. Will they be able to unite the party, too? Dugdale has a much higher level of approval internally than Murphy, but Labour is known for being riven with toxic factionalism whether it was Blair vs Brown, Brown vs Everyone, Miliband vs Various or Johann Lamont vs everyone who started plotting against her the minute she was elected.  If they put half as much energy into solving the country’s problems as they put into fighting each other, they’d be doing a lot better.

It’s started already. Malcolm Chisholm, outgoing MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith, is not convinced by Murphy as he told the Politics and That blog the other day:

You can predict what the SNP are going to say about him. Part of that will be: ‘Oh, London Labour; they just do what they tell them.’

“I think the perception that we’re controlled by London is actually quite damaging for Labour and I think that will be a continuing problem for us if Jim Murphy is the leader.”

I suspect, though that the shine will come off the SNP fairly quickly. Given that the Scottish Parliament’s overall majority for the SNP rests on a few thousand strategically placed votes cast at a time when Labour was in just as bad a situation as it is now, it’s possible that Murphy could be competing to be Scottish First Minister in 18 months’ time. It’s also possible that he might need the backing of the Lib Dems. He and Willie Rennie know each other well from when Willie was an MP and, as keen runners, used to compete against each other in races which, it pains me to say, Murphy more often won. If Labour sorts out its policies and its attitude, there may be potential for joint working between the two parties but we’re a long way from that.

I am not expecting to be wowed by Murphy in any way. He may surprise me. Let’s see.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '14 - 12:31pm

    If I lived in Scotland I would consider voting for a Murphy run Scottish Labour. However, I have concerns about Kezia.

    I’m not going to debate the reasons why. Those are just the facts of how I feel and it is good to remind Lib Dems that people still disagree with them.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Dec '14 - 12:53pm

    Tim, he was still coming out with the patriot vs nationalist line during the referendum. It’s pretty much his catchphrase.

  • If he voted for the Iraq war and all the blairite stuff then no. I don’t think he can turn scotland back towards labour.

    Providing the voters hear all this of course.

  • Isn’t too much expectation being piled on Murphy. He can do his best to help Labour in Scotland during the GE, but ultimately their performance there surely comes down to whether Scots want Ed Miliband as PM. Murphy would do well to focus on the Scottish election of 2016 and what he would as first minister. I don’t understand Labour that well but I’d assumed it was impossible for a Blairite to get elected for them now. And in Scotland of all places!

    Not sure what to make of political developments ‘up there’. I’m generally of the view that the 3 main parties deserve a kicking and I guess the SNP’s success reflects that, but there’s parts of them that bother me. Having family up there now I wouldn’t want to see devolution become a one party state.

  • David Howell 13th Dec '14 - 1:12pm

    I’m not sure this is the result that Labour voters in Scotland were hoping for, but it’s excellent news for the SNP.
    To say that Jim Murphy is a “deeply polarising figure” is somewhat understating the fact.

    There are a couple of things not mentioned in the article, but very much in the minds of Scottish voters. The first is Jim Murphy’s expenses over his time in politics (over £1 million of taxpayers cash supporting his seemingly voracious appetite; perhaps he runs it all off!), then there is the question of 9 years at University (again, at taxpayers expense) with nothing to show for it.

    You’re absolutely right to point out his right wing , Blairite hereditary and the fact that he voted for all the repressive attacks upon freedom of speech and the right to protest as well as being a cheerleader for our involvement in the illegal Iraq war during his time in New Labour.

    His election as leader of Labour in Scotland will be seen as London sending up “their man” to run the “branch office” for the Red Tories.

    I reserve judgement over Kezia Dugdale as I haven’t heard or seen much about her, but I’m heartened to know that she supports a proposed 50/50 representation in government.
    No doubt both she and yourgoodself will welcome Nicola Sturgeon’s new cabinet which already is “gender balanced” at 50/50. No doubt the other parties will one day catch up with the SNP.

  • On patriots vs nationalists – Don’t know how Murphy phrased it but I think it’s right to say that you can be a patriot without having to be a nationalist. I’ve never understood the scorn for 90 minute patriots as I’m one myself. Or 80 minutes in our (Wales’) case.

  • Caron,
    I have always regarded Murphy as more of a speak-your-weight machine than a “Big Beast” but I am more than prepared to believe that he is “..hardly in keeping with the zeitgeist..”
    As to his Deputy, I will have to take your word for it that her priority of a gender balanced Parliament is more “.. in keeping with the zeitgeist”.
    It may be the exactly the subject that swung it and resulted in large numbers of traditional Labour voters in Glasgow and Dundee voting YES in the referendum. For all I know it is the first thing that people have mentioned when in their thousands they have joined the SNP in the last few weeks.

    Try as I might I just cannot hear a Glaswegian version of “I am joining the SNP for a gender balanced parliament” echoing round the streets. Whatever the list of zeitgeist issues is in Scotland my guess is that a gender balanced parliament is not at the top.

    I would be delighted to be proved wrong. Scotland is often well ahead of England on such issues and maybe it is me who is out of touch. However, as recently as May 2014 the people of Scotland elected a member of UKIP to be their MEP rather than a member of the Liberal Democrats. I am guessing that UKIP Scotland is not a key member of Ms Dugdale’s cross party campaign.

  • Whatever you think of Mirphy, he also had an excellent referendum campaign – in fact he was probably the politician to come out of it best!

  • Tony Greaves 13th Dec '14 - 4:50pm

    I have to say that to a pro-Scot non-Scot like me, Murphy is the least charismatic politician in the UK apart from Douglas Alexander. But Scots may see and hear him differently. And a Westminster MP holding that position just seems like stupidity.


  • Tony Greaves 13th Dec '14 - 4:51pm

    PS Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Nationalism is for up-front scoundrels.

  • paul barker 13th Dec '14 - 5:14pm

    Another problem facing Murpy & his team is that lots of Labour supporters believe that SLAB Membership has fallen sharply in recent Months & is a lot lower than the 13,500 figure given in November. Its noticeable that the official results of The leadership Election are given in Percentages with no actual numbers. That suggests they have something embarassing to cover up.

  • Iain

    “Whatever you think of Mirphy, he also had an excellent referendum campaign – in fact he was probably the politician to come out of it best!”

    Without doubt he and Brown were head and shoulders above the rest. The SNP will not be happy with this result.

  • The election of Murphy may prove to make it more difficult for Labour to form a coalition in May; Murphy is to the SNP what Salmond is to Labour. This is without contemplating the historical bad blood between the two parties that still continues to this day.

  • David Howell 13th Dec '14 - 6:34pm


    Forgive me, but I think you’re missing the point (possibly deliberately?) ; the SNP and other left of centre groups are not “objecting” to Jim Murphy ‘s crowning as Labours “Scottish branch office administrator “, nor are they “worried” by it.

    If you read below the line of most MSM news articles, you will see that Murphy is a gift to the SNP and their allies and as Caron correctly alludes to, is a “deeply polarising figure” – which might be shorthand for “overtly right wing, war mongering, student grant removing, . . . Or to put it another way . . . A Blairite!

    The blogs are awash with negativity for the man; with most of the more vitriolic comments coming from ex-Labour voters and party members.

    I would love to know the numbers voting for him? Strangely, this doesn’t seem to be available from Labour; I wonder why?

  • paul barker 13th Dec ’14 – 5:14pm

    Yes you are quite right. I have searched but cannot find any actual details of numbers of votes, or influencen of trade union voting on the result. There is a press statement from Unite, which makes it clear that they did not back Murphy but no actual figures.

    Can anyone enlighten us as to Labour in Scotland’s secret facts of how many people actually voted ?

    If this is the future for transparency and democracy under Labour in Scotland — the SNP must be licking their lips.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Dec '14 - 6:45pm

    ‘ Murphy is a Big Beast, having been part of the last Labour government for 9 years. ‘

    He’s respected but in UK terms he’s not a ‘big beast.’ Maybe in Scotland he is seen as more of a heavy weight, especially as he came out of the referendum campaign quite well, I thought.

    ‘ He was a staunch Blairite and, of course, voted for the Iraq war and all of Labour’s authoritarian policies from ID cards to 90 days detention. A pro-war blairite seems hardly in keeping with the zeitgeist, it has to be said.’

    If he’s a Blairite because he voted for all of Blair’s policies then that must make Gordon Brown one too. Very few Labour Cabinet members defied their glorious leader over Iraq.

    On faith and the predictable swipe: when I ‘ve heard him talk on the issue he seems to want to be able to speak about it without getting shouted down by those who think that people of faith should be quiet in the public square. Nothing wrong with his view.

  • YouGov/Sun poll of Scots’ Westminster voting intention:
    SNP 47
    LAB 27
    CON 16
    GRN 3
    LDM 3
    UKIP 3

  • The referendum was close and it cost Labour a lot of its heartland seats. It isn’t about who leads Labour in Scotland it’s about the SNP plugging away until they tip the balance. The SNP have inbuilt electoral majority and it is not going to lose it that easily.

  • David Howell 13th Dec '14 - 9:13pm

    John Tilley.

    “…Can anyone enlighten us as to Labour in Scotland’s secret facts of how many people actually voted ?…”

    That’s a very fair question John; I think the answer as to why they have been so reticent in publishing actual voter numbers, can be summed up in one word . . . ” Embarrasment “!

    They also are mysteriously quiet about about how many Labour Party members there are left in Scotland now.
    I suspect there will be a few less of them after today’s result.

  • “He’s also someone who has said he wants faith to play a bigger part in politics just like it does in the US. No thanks. Really.”

    I find this comment perplexing. On the Referendum night, Murphy was excoriating the SNP for appealling to sectarianism by pointing out that the Orange Order is opposed to separation. Murphy was right on 18th September, and deeply wrong on the occasion that he said that “faith” should play a bigger part in politics. In Scotland, and particularly the West of Scotland, “faith” needs to be kept firmly where it belongs – under the carpet.

  • Labour are doing very badly in Scotland, but 3% for the LibDems is a disaster. Even Charles Kennedy could be in trouble, just as well you have Orkney and Shetland. I wonder what the Nick Clegg diehards will use as an excuse if you finish sixth on share of the vote?

  • Denis Mollison 13th Dec '14 - 10:48pm

    Why does anyone think Murphy did well in the referendum? He stood on a crate and shouted at mostly very small crowds. It might/may have been designed to provoke an aggressive response, and he made the most of the one egg thrown at him.

    All the Yes-supporters I know are happy he has won this leadership contest. His first problem is working out how to get elected to the Scottish Parliament, with no obvious easy route.

  • Why on earth do we care if Jim Murphy and some teenage blogger can restore the Labour Party in Scotland’s fortune?

    I’m sorry this sort of semi love in with Labour is the reason why the once proud tradition of Scottish home rule propounded by the Liberals/Lib Dems has been lost in the rush to become the Clydeside Unionists country cousins.

    The sooner the Scottish Labour party is driven into the north Atlantic the sooner Scotland can become the modern pluralistinc northern European democracy with a social conscience it desparately wants to become – but can’t becaiuse it sticks to nanny’s coat tails.

  • Peter Chegwyn 14th Dec '14 - 3:13am

    The new YouGov / Scottish Sun poll shows the Lib. Dems. on just 3 per cent. That’s right. Just 3 per cent.

    Jim Murphy may have a tough time saving Labour seats in Scotland but that’s his problem, not ours.

    We should be more concerned about our own 11 seats and how many we can hold when we’re polling just 3 per cent across Scotland as a whole, less than a fifth of what the Conservatives are polling and they only have 1 seat to defend.

    I’m glad I’m not Danny Alexander!

    SNP 47
    LAB 27
    CON 16
    GRN 3
    LDM 3
    UKIP 3

  • Enjoyed this article I followed many comments from Scotland during the referendum and the more recent neverendum. I am not sold that Murphy will electrify Scottish labour primarily because he is a blairite and new labour supporter.

    I think whichever Labour or Snp returns Mps in 2015 Westminster is going to face a barrage of demands for more Devo it’s going to need a slight of hand to stop the break up of the UK now not just because the SNP want this but now Wales and Ireland think England is not fair the financial times ran an item that London would like to go alone all this may well result in England saying off you go. Cooperation will go out the window and Lord help us all theSNP and greed are going to deliver what the world wars failed in

  • Denis Mollison

    Why does anyone think Murphy did well in the referendum? He stood on a crate and shouted at mostly very small crowds. It might/may have been designed to provoke an aggressive response, and he made the most of the one egg thrown at him.

    He showed up a nasty side of the nats, and don’t forget, which the SNP apparently have, the Yes side lost by a relatively large margin.

    I would credit Murphy for some of that result.

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Dec '14 - 9:01am

    Peter Chegwyn 14th Dec ’14 – 3:13am

    A typical comment from a usual suspect unconvinced by our world class slogans and graphics … alternatively it may just be that only a very small proportion of the electorate actually believe the inane messages Clegg’s team endlessly put out.

    It is beyond me that anyone can believe that a strategy which has failed to work (at all) for the past four and a half years will suddenly strike a chord with the electorate in 2015.

    I find it impossible to believe that the vast majority of our MPs themselves believe in the strategy and its likelihood of success. They must appreciate in their hearts that more of the same will inevitably yield more of the same.

    Clegg’s new year message should be “go back to your constituencies and prepare … to dig in very very deeply”. At least that will be one message we can all agree with.

  • Paul In Twickenham 14th Dec '14 - 9:24am

    @Peter Chegwyn – over on the members’ forum I noted that in 2010 the total number of votes polled for Lib Dems only in the 11 constituencies that we won was 7.5% of all votes cast in Scotland.

    So if we get 3% in Scotland then even if we poll exactly zero votes in every one of the 48 Scottish constituencies that we do not hold, we will still be losing an average of 60% of our previous vote in our held Scottish seats.

    On that basis Alistair Carmichael and possibly Charles Kennedy might just scrape back and the other seats would all be lost. So let’s hope it’s wrong.

    But even if we assume worst-case outlier for this poll and use 6%as our vote share, and assume a Rochester-style result in every one of the 48 non-held seats, we still drop to an average 27% vote share in our held seats.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Dec '14 - 11:10am

    Point of information to Exiled Scot: Kezia Dugdale is 33 years old and an MSP, not a “teenage blogger.” She had a great referendum and we under-estimate her at our peril.

  • A couple of months ago if people like my self dared to suggest only 2 MPs next May from Scotland, we were citicized, now here we are,
    Stephen, “digging in” is appropriate, the adage is, when in trouble stop digging, we should STOP forthwith.
    One thing seems pretty clear, whatever anyone may say superficially, deep down we ALL know that we have to change something and quick

  • On the Scottish Polls, there havent been many since The Referendum but most of the few we have seen give The Libdems around 6%.

  • Peter Chegwyn wrote:

    “The new YouGov / Scottish Sun poll shows the Lib. Dems. on just 3 per cent. That’s right. Just 3 per cent.”

    Yes. We don’t have a very clear idea of what is going on in Scotland, do we?

    Most of our Scottish seats are rural, and have small council groups and low voter contact. They are the West Country writ large. The Scottish seats that most resemble those English seats where our vote appears to be holding up the best are Dumbartonshire East and Edinburgh West. If Scotland behaves in exactly the same way as England, those are the seats that we are most likely to hold. On the other hand, the incumbency factor is probably stronger in Scotland than in England, especially in the Highlands. Also bear in mind that these Scotland-wide polls ask the Ashcroft Question No 1, not the Ashcroft Question No 2, let alone the un-asked Ashcroft Question No 3.

    Now, if Vince Cable were leading the party rather than Nick Clegg, how many extra seats would we win? If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say about a dozen.

  • John Barrett 16th Dec '14 - 10:05am

    The results in Scotland next May are impossible to predict at this time. At the 2010 General Election, despite all the predictions of gains and disasters, not one seat changed hands compared to the 2005 election. On the other hand those seats seats described by Sesenco as where we are doing well, we were in fourth place in various recent elections, yet we could still hold on to them because of incumbency and a number of other local factors.

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