Situations Vacant: an opposition for Scotland


Down and out: Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour leader

On the morning of May 8 2015, Labour died, suddenly. May it rest in peace.

When I was a young journalist, I remember being given a kicking one night by the revise sub – a senior journalist whose responsibility it was to save the readers from my mistakes. He had taken exception to the phrase “died suddenly”. I had used it in an obituary.

“Everyone dies suddenly,” he told me. “One second you are alive, and the next you’re dead.” Having witnessed a few lingering deaths since, I’m not sure he was right, but theoretically there must be a point at which extinction happens.

For proof of his theory, one need only look at the fate of the Labour Party in Scotland. The dinosaurs took longer to die than Labour, swept aside on election night by the irresistible force that is the Scottish National Party.

First past the post is a cruel political system, but there’s no comfort for Labour in looking to the electoral system for an excuse. It was comprehensively beaten, rejected by an electorate that had lost faith in the party and its ability to articulate the concerns of Scots.

In the aftermath of the vote, it’s been said that Labour’s problem was that it was not right wing enough in England and not left wing enough in Scotland. While there may be some truth in that, it does not tell the whole story. Many of those who voted SNP were not ‘dyed in the wool’ old time Socialists.

Labour’s problem is that for too long it has taken Scots and the Scottish electorate for granted. Its grandees have been more focused on London and the national stage – Gordon Brown, Douglas Alexander, and Jim Murphy, among others; while the party in Scotland has been inward-looking, hubristic and deaf to its electorate.

The writing has been on the wall for some time now, but nobody in Scottish Labour has been bothered to read it. The panda joke it used to make so gleefully about the Tories (more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs) now applies to Labour too. There’s been no coming back for the Tories – once a force to be reckoned with in Scotland; it’s doubtful whether Labour is capable of coming back either.

There’s a vacancy in Scotland for a credible opposition; but nobody is capable of providing it. That’s not good for politics and, while they might not admit it in public, it’s not good for the SNP either. Strong oppositions make for good governments.

The Labour leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, is determined to hang on to his position, even though he has no credible personal or party mandate to continue. Replacing him would be like putting a new captain in charge of the Titanic. Best to let him go down with the ship.

The Labour movement needs to recognise that it can no longer fight for power in the United Kingdom as a single party. Scotland needs a new opposition party to challenge the SNP on its own terms and in its own territory. It will no longer yield to a party that has its headquarters in London, and its primary focus on the political cockpit in Westminster.

Scottish Labour is dead. There should be no attempt at resuscitation; just a simple cremation, with the ashes buried at the feet of Donald Dewar in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street.