Yet within a calendar month, the wheels had come completely off Labour’s Scottish machine. Firstly, Lamont resigned as Scottish leader blaming London Labour for treating the Scottish party as a “branch office”. Then, Sarwar was forced to resign his deputy leadership to make room for the Blairite MP Jim Murphy and rookie MSP Kezia Dugdale to take over the “poisoned Quaich” of leading the Scottish Labour Party.
Finally, in the wake of opinion polls showing a near Scottish Labour wipe-out in next year’s general election, Darling announced he was standing down as an MP and looking to build a career away from elected politics. None of this was foreseen by the London-based media. They had expected that what they regarded as a decisive No vote in the referendum would return Scottish politics to the provincial backwaters it usually occupied under Westminster rule.
Scotland, they imagined, would now go back to doing what it did best—sending 40-odd Labour MPs to shore up British Labour’s bid to become the next UK government. Instead they were left with a Labour Party north of the border in apparent meltdown and with opinion polls suggesting that re-energised nationalists rather than House trained Labourites would be spearheading a Scottish assault on Westminster’s after the 2015 election.
A sense of betrayal and frustration runs through the British coverage of these unfolding events. Scottish Labour, so recently feted as having saved the union, is now dismissed as a “rock-bottom basket case” by one senior commentator. Another describes it as “faction ridden” and requiring a leader who possesses an “MA in Advanced Scottish Feuding Studies” to sort out the poisonous hatreds that run through the party. Johann Lamont is also vilified for aiding and abetting the nationalist enemy by the manner of her departure. One critic even suggested that by blaming London Labour, “she might as well have defected” to the nationalist cause.
What also unites these British critics is the conviction that Jim Murphy is the “champion who can revive a demoralised and divided party”. He is variously described across the London based press as “Labour’s best chance”, “a gutsy street fighter” and “the big political beast in the…leadership contest”. One pundit even suggested that his 100 towns tour of Scotland during the referendum campaign, during which he spoke in public squares using an Irn-Bru crate as a soapbox, had made him into a “martyr to nationalist egg-throwers”.
The other candidates for the leadership, MSPs Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack, remain invisible to British journalists who know little or nothing about Holyrood or Scottish politics. Murphy’s elevation by British commentators to being the saviour of Scottish and UK Labour politics reveals the extent to which they are out of touch with post-referendum politics in Scotland.
Murphy, far from being the answer to Labour’s problems north of the border, epitomises everything that is wrong with the Labour Party in Scotland. He is a political careerist who took advantage of the Labour landslide in 1997 to establish a safe constituency base in what had been till then the safest Tory seat in Scotland. From there, he embarked upon what he hoped would be a glittering Westminster career by climbing on the New Labour bandwagon. He has held to the New Labour line ever since.
He has staunchly supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the renewal of Trident and anti-terrorism laws. He is a staunch supporter of Israel’s “right to self-defence” against what he describes as “terrorist” attacks from Gaza. He backed foundation hospitals and market reforms in the NHS. He strongly supported means-tested welfare reforms that have targeted the poor and the vulnerable.
He supported the end of free university education. He backs massive cuts to public spending in the name of deficit reduction. He stands for the kind of politics that have alienated Labour’s heartland vote across Scotland. Throughout his 17 years in Westminster, he has shown little or no interest in Scottish politics.
It was only when the prospect of independence threatened business as usual on the green benches of the House of Commons that he abruptly re-discovered his appetite for leading the Scottish Labour Party back from the brink of looming electoral disaster.
His candidacy is Westminster’s answer to its difficulties with Scotland. It answers none of the real problems facing a Scotland beset by the politics of austerity. If Murphy wins, Scottish Labour loses.