Before Jim Murphy resigned as leader of Scottish Labour, this letter was penned north of the border. A clear wish was later granted.
Last night I attended my first Labour Party meeting outwith a CLP – and it was an interesting first to say the least. Of course, the main theme of the night was the devastating loss in the general election last week, and with that the talk of why it went so badly. Leadership was at the forefront of the agenda, and Jim Murphy’s lack of resignation was the main topic of discussion. It was extremely interesting to hear everyone’s viewpoint on the matter, but at the day the meeting just confirmed what we already know – he needs to go in order for us to move forward as a Party.
It was brought up by a few members that yes, he didn’t have a lot of time in the job and didn’t get a ‘fair chance’ of making a change, but as another member pointed out, politics is not the best job to be in if you want fairness. To many people Jim Murphy is the face of Blairism and a Westminster who doesn’t listen to Scotland, and the face of the Labour Party who ‘lay in bed with the Tories’. Another member also reiterated this point by asking the group ‘who had spent an hour of campaigning without hearing a complaint about Jim Murphy?’ and the hands were few.
From this came the next issue – if Jim did go, who would replace him? Does anyone want to? There was talk of Kezia Dugdale taking the position, but again the question of ‘will she take it?’ is prominent. A member made a good analogy about Scottish Labour leadership being a poisoned chalice -it was a poisoned chalice when Johann Lamont took it over, it was worse when Jim Murphy took it, and now it’s even worse than that. There was also the issue that after last week’s wipeout, there is a severe lack of candidates to choose from anyway, never mind a candidate who is more left.
Many also pointed out that leadership is not the only problem Scottish Labour are facing, and that we have been in decline since 2011, which poor leadership has only contributed to. Our policies have not been progressive enough, we have lost our social justice values, Miliband and ‘English labour’ have taken us too far right and the SNP have swooped in and taken where we should be. Labour are not doing enough for disabled people. The homeless and unemployed, young people – the SNP have offered an alternative with hope, which whilst inaccurate, has swung voters. We have failed as a party on many levels, even within ourselves – CLP attendance is in decline, and people don’t go because they don’t feel their views have an influence anymore. All of these issues need to be addressed in order to ensure the future of Scottish Labour, and they go beyond leadership.
I feel that the night was filled with identifying problems, which is EXCELLENT and the first step in moving forward, but not many solutions were proffered. We know as a party what we have to do, but we don’t know how. What we do know is that the first step is starting fresh and getting Jim to go. The ‘how’ seems to be the main issue. We are supposed to be a movement for the people and by the people. As a politics student, one of the most important things I have learned is that authority lies within the consent of the people, and the people are not consenting anymore. It poses the question, what kind of party are we when we ignore the people we seek to represent? When we ignore its members? That’s not democratic, it’s not socially just, it’s not Labour. Then again, if UK Labour elects a ‘right’ leader, are we in Scotland stuffed anyway? A move towards an independent Scottish Labour was tentatively touched on, but no one in much depth. It is a scary prospect, seeming to go with our nationalist colleagues, but perhaps exciting. A new start. Is it not socialist to want what is best for everyone? Scottish Labour needs to go back to its roots again, and if that means having a Labour Party with a purely Scottish focus then why not I ask? Last week, the Scottish people protested against what Scottish Labour has become. This week, we need to make a change, and bring those people back. Jim Murphy stepping down is just the first stage of becoming a true Labour Party again. To rebuild as a party, we need credibility and respect from those we lost AND those we didn’t, and that begins with new leadership. I truly believe this can be a fresh start for Labour in Scotland, one where we fight for social justice, progressive policies, invest in grassroots activism and getting people from every walk of life involved, put enthusiasm and hope at the forefront of our campaigns instead of fear and negativity. Let’s hope Jim believes this too, and does the right the for his Party and his country.
Lyndsay Clelland writes from her local Constituency Labour Party’s first meeting since the election