Sunday, December 14, 2014

Will Jackanory Jim even lead Scottish Labour into the 2016 Holyrood election?

The newly-installed "leader" of Labour's branch office in Scotland made clear during the campaign that as far as he was concerned he was also running to become First Minister.  But will Murphy even get to the point of submitting himself to the voters on that basis in May 2016?  I can think of at least four ways in which he might be dislodged before then...

1) He might stand in East Renfrewshire at next year's general election and be defeated.  People quite naturally talk about Murphy's personal vote and the bonus he may get from his visibility as "leader", but both of those points are already factored into the 2010 baseline result, which saw Murphy as the incumbent Scottish Secretary defeat the Tories by more than 10,000 votes in a constituency that in its "wild state" ought to have been either a safe Tory seat, or at best a Tory-Labour marginal.  So there's no obvious reason to suppose that he'll be enjoying a personal advantage over and above the one he had last time, which means that the following figures are entirely relevant -

Swing required for the SNP to defeat Murphy : 21.0%

Current national Labour-to-SNP swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 20.3%

Swing required for the Conservatives to defeat Murphy : 10.2%

Current national Labour-to-Conservative swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 7.8%

It looks a bit close for comfort on both fronts.  Yes, the likelihood is that the SNP's national lead over Labour will at least reduce as polling day approaches, but I don't see how anyone can ponder the above figures and conclude that East Renfrewshire looks at this moment like a shoo-in for Labour.  If Murphy were to lose, it's not entirely clear to me whether he would be automatically required by the party's rules to relinquish the leadership - but his position would surely be untenable anyway.

2) He might resign as an MP, stand in a Holyrood by-election and be defeated.  We all know that by-election campaigns can be as mad as a bucket of frogs and produce stunning upsets, and you can guarantee that the SNP would throw the kitchen sink at this one.  Murphy might seek to avert the "by-election bubble" problem by engineering a contest to take place on the same day as the general election, but then he would risk being carried away by a nationwide SNP tidal wave - if the current momentum continues (which is admittedly a big if).

3) He might take the rap for heavy losses to the SNP next May, even if he wins his own seat.  In theory, there's no particular reason why he should take the rap, because Ed Miliband is the leader in Westminster terms and Murphy will only be playing a support role in the general election campaign.  But it's Murphy himself who has chosen to personalise this by repeatedly claiming that he will ensure that Labour retains every single Westminster seat that they currently hold.  He might be able to gloss over the loss of Falkirk and one or two other seats, but if the carnage is as great as the opinion polls currently suggest, the media will be in a position to recite his words back to him over and over again and make his leadership look like an abject failure.  (Although the million dollar question is whether the media would actually choose to put him under that kind of pressure, because the likes of Kenny Farquharson seem to have a rather sweet crush on Jackanory Jim.)

4) He might not be able to resist standing for the UK Labour leadership if a vacancy occurs next year, or he might be tempted by an offer of a senior Shadow Cabinet post from Miliband's successor.  It's no secret that Murphy sees his native country as a backwater, and would never have dreamed of heading to the Scottish Parliament if his career prospects under Miliband hadn't looked as bleak as they did.  But if Labour are defeated in the UK general election, the situation will change, because Miliband will almost certainly no longer be leader.  Assuming Murphy is still MP for East Renfrewshire, he would be eligible to run for the UK party leadership, or to return immediately to the Shadow Cabinet in a senior role if another Blairite becomes leader.  Yes, he'd know that would leave the Scottish party in a state of utter chaos, but let's be honest - if he no longer has a personal investment, do we really think he would care?


  1. Under 4
    Don't think any Scottish person will get a major post in the unlikely event of a Labour victory. The English press haven't forgotten Brown And Darling.

  2. Secretary of State for Scotland must be a Scot.

  3. Hardly a major post (Moore, Carmichael sort of job).

    1. In fact all the major UK parties (except Labour?) have talked about abolishing the post and it was only kept in place in 2010 as a way of giving the LibDems a fairly harmless cabinet place.

      However if the next UK government thinks there is an imminent danger of indyref2 then they'll keep it for propagander purposes.

  4. If the polls show Yes consistently ahead, chances are Jim Murphy will support independence. I'm surprised he's not tried to join the SNP yet, although I suppose he's waiting to see what happens in May next year.

  5. I still want to know what Jim Murphy was doing between 1986 when he claims to have started at Strathclyde Uni and 1988 when he actually started his studies at Strathclyde. This two year hole in his history is very questionable given his eligibility for a 2 year conscription to the Apartheid South African Army would have fallen due in.... 1986

  6. I won't hear a bad word said about Murphy. He's 'Mr Scottish' so he is.

    Here's him drinking his favoured Irn Bru, what with his 'cheeky grin' and love of 'one liners'.

    And here running along the banks of the Clyde in a Scotland top.

    Anyone snapped Sturgeon taking a swing of Bru whilst running in a Scotland top?

    Didn't think so. Aye.

    1. Is there any evidence this works on anyone? Such horrible shortbread tin imagery fills most people I know with a pretty high degree of cultural cringe.

  7. That's how British (first and foremost, in terms of national identity) people see Scottishness / understand it. Jim actually believes he's being Scottish here. ~17% at most of the population see Scotland they same way and they'll never support independence. That should give you an idea of whether it works on anyone.

  8. One thing I think Murphy is aiming at I don't think I've seen mentioned is a change of Westminster seat.

    I reckon his calculation is that he gives up E Renfrew, puts up a creditable but unsuccessful attempt at Holyrood in 2016, resigns and goes back to Wminster for an English seat in 2020.

    Even with EVEL, a Scot can still be in high UK office if they don't represent a Scottish constituency.

  9. The 'safe' option would be: don't stand for Westminster in 2015, but wait till the 2016 elections before running for Holyrood (and change the rules so you can contest both a constituency and the list).
    But could Murphy operate as leader outside either parliament? He'd risk becoming marginalised and neutralised the reason people voted for him as a 'big hitter'.
    A Holyrood by-election on the same day as the Westminster General Election is probably the smartest option. But incredibly risky given current polling.

  10. Murphy has a more immediate and pressing problem. He is still an MP and answers to the UK party whip. The man who would be his own man, will be expected to tow the party line. This makes it all but impossible for him to seal his credentials as being "independent" of westminster and Ed Miliband. So for all the soundbites he remains Westminsters man in Scotland. To compound this he must now rely on Dugdale to represent labour within Holyrood. Many folk have called her a capable operator on single issues. But then that is largely due to the unquestioning support of the MSM. It remains to be seen if she can be effective against Sturgeon. Dugdales most immediate and pressing problem derives from the issue affecting Murphy. She cannot commit the party to anything without support from Muprhy, who in turn needs the nod from his Westminster party bosses. The issues that undermined Lamonts authority (no sniggering at the back) are still present.

    All this is going to play out before the General election and Holyrood elections. I cannot see Miliband giving Murphy the support he needs.

    IMHO I think Miliband will be glad to see the back of Murphy. I also think he realises that he doesn't need Scotlands branch to win the General election. He needs England to stop voting tory. He needs Scottish Labour to keep Scotland in the Union and so finance his "pooling and sharing" doctrine. He is perhaps, hoping that the result in september can kick the ball down the road a bit.

    The last paragraph is conjecture of course. But the idea that labour is working against itself in Scotland does remind me of the Scottish Conservatives during the Thatcher era.