There’s a reason why folk say that a week is a long time in politics. That’s because it is.
Ten days ago, Labour had a leader and a deputy leader in Scotland. Now it doesn’t. Last Friday, Johann Lamont departed the scene letting off a political stink bomb in the process. The honesty and hurt was visceral. There’s a post I’ll finish drafting now I’ve got rid of the virus (sort of) and the broken laptop is now fixed (hopefully) about her leadership – because there are a few things Labour and others need to be reminded of. That Johann Lamont is essentially a decent person, a hardworking MSP, who only put herself forward for the leadership as a transition candidate anyway. And was she allowed to do the job that the Labour party in Scotland elected her to do?
Which point was seized upon with rather too much glee by the two former First Ministers, returning to the scene of the crime in order to settle a few scores but also say things about the state of the party which they should have said and done something about a long time ago.
In truth, there’s been a lot of pent up Labour anguish since 2007 and it’s had very little outlet. Thus, Johann’s departure allowed a lot of it to spill out into the open. It’s needed. Just as what is not needed is what is going on now.
Which is the meeja in particular, and presumably also, unseen hands in the machine steering a course for Jim Murphy to assume the leadership mantle. Because Jim Murphy is the wrong answer, frankly.
Why? Because already he has set out his store as being the man who not just wants to lead his party but to lead “Scottish Labour to victory”. Apparently, the job he is applying for is to become Scotland’s First Minister. At which point, the Scottish electorate rolls its eyes and prepares to respond to yet another opinion poll telling – TELLING – the Labour party exactly what it thinks of this response by indicating how they are unlikely to ever want to vote Labour EVER AGAIN UNTIL THEY GET IT.
It’s the political equivalent of the Road Runner cartoon. Guess who’s Wile E Coyote?
But still they don’t get it. The job I’m applying for is to be First Minister of Scotland? FFS. No, the job you are applying for is to lead your party so that it finds a way to represent the interests of the Scottish people. To address the issues they care about. To find a story that sings, that touches voters in all the right places, so that they believe you can be trusted to go for the country’s messages again. Then, and only then, will they be prepared to audition you for the job of First Minister. In any event, you’ll need to find yourself a winnable seat in order to do that.
And here’s the thing. Despite Jim Murphy’s stall being set out as the front runner for this non-vacancy, not only does he not have a seat for that, there’s also the small matter of an electoral college to overcome.
David Miliband was the contender to beat once. Jim Murphy and Blair McDougall, who were in Miliband’s campaign team, are better able to relate what happened next.
But then no one was entirely convinced that Johann would become leader either. There’s a sort of inbuilt bias against the idea of a woman becoming leader of anything on her own merits. For there is always a man better placed, equipped and talented to do the job. As Sarah Boyack is finding out.
Apparently, all leaders need to be confident, assertive, strutting peacocks. Yet, I – and I suspect others do too – like Sarah Boyack’s softer style. As a Minister, she proved herself – time and again – as a consensus politician, a product of the new politics the Scottish Parliament was supposed to usher in. She, much more than Jim Murphy, occupies the centre ground in Labour, with an instinctive and deeply held belief in social democratic values. And given her role in the internal reform consultation and again on the devolution commission, I wouldn’t be discounting her chances with the membership part of the electoral college. She will be known – personally – by a lot of members. And that counts. I’d hazard that many of those from the “co-operative” wing of the party might opt for her too.
Jim Murphy might have more MP and MSP nominations than his opponents but it’s a pretty predictable list. Neil Findlay’s is much more interesting in size and make up and while the media have dismissed the idea of Labour opting for a very left leaning leader, I’m not so sure. Folk are desperate. They’ve tried being all things to all people. It’s not worked. And at least with Neil, they’d get a lot of politics and ideas, as well as a rearguard action to stem the flow of members and supporters to the SNP from the “core vote”.
Neil Findlay is also likely to do very well out of the union part of the college. Which begs the question, where will Jim Murphy’s support actually come from, aside from his cheerleaders in the male dominated political meeja pack?
Apparently, SNP folk are feart of Murphy and that’s why everyone is talking him down. But just because Alex Massie said this doesn’t make it true or right.
I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon has much to fear from facing Jim Murphy every week, partly because there will be little actual facing going on. A mano a mano contest between Murphy and Salmond might have been interesting in a gladiatorial sort of way but I’m fairly certain it won’t be Nicola Sturgeon’s style.
Then there’s the small matter of what Jim Murphy has ever actually done. He went from being a student politician to being a Labour one with no real job or real life experience in between. Any notable achievements while a Minister? I’m toiling. He was always fairly invisible as a Minister, and much more comfortable and articulate in opposition – which is a strength for where Labour is just now. But that also suggests he lacks ideas. And a plan. And the ability to lead to achieve things, rather than just be rent a quote kicking at the Tories and the SNP on the telly.
He doesn’t get on with Ed Miliband, which may not matter much, for his days are probably numbered. But if they aren’t and Ed does become Prime Minister, well Scotland might find itself out in the cold. Just as Jim has done personally. And that’s not a good thing, unless Jim Murphy is up for a bit of UDI type of internal politics. Now that would make things interesting.
Nor has he ever really conducted his politics in Scotland. And Scotland’s political culture is different these days. The reason Johann Lamont described the Westminster politicians who have interfered and briefed against her leadership as dinosaurs, is because they are. They lumber about the Scottish stage, treating it as their backyard, yet Labour supporters and voters generally have made clear their views on that. Labour can claim all it likes it won the referendum: the truth is its failure to hold its core vote nearly resulted in a Yes vote. It’s safe to assume that Westminster Labour politicians making it all about them and talking in tongues didn’t help. And Murphy played a key role in all that.
Ultimately, Scottish voters have become very good at sniffing out ordure. For all that Jim Murphy may take to the role of Scottish Labour leader on the stage of Scottish politics enthusiastically and commitedly, everyone knows he’s only put himself forward because with Ed Miliband in charge, his chances of securing Ministerial office in a UK Government are not good. His career at Westminster is finished and Scotland amounts to sloppy seconds.
Scotland’s voters might not like that. They might actually respond better to the bluff honesty of deeply held left wing principles espoused by Neil Findlay or indeed, to the solid centrist social democratic views of Sarah Boyack – both of whom are conviction politicians in quite different ways.
Or maybe people have been waiting all this time for Scottish Labour to get with the Blair project and Jim Murphy will unite prosperous and poor in voting Labour again in Scotland.
Ultimately, Scottish Labour needs someone who can lead their own people by following the Scottish people, A deft political trick which the SNP appears to have mastered and which Labour has forgotten even exists.