Jim Murphy is politician who needs to explain a lot. He was part of the Blairite New Labour project. He voted for student fees. He voted for the war in Iraq. He stood alongside the Tories in Better Together. He won’t scrap Trident.
And I have a compelling reason for demanding these explanations from him.
After all, the very name of Tony Blair is political poison, isn’t it?
Of course. Except for when it comes to the achievements of the Labour governments which he led: the Scottish Parliament, the Good Friday Agreement, the National Minimum Wage, the freedom accorded to Gordon Brown to use the Treasury as an instrument of social policy, leading to tax credits for families and a minimum income for pensioners, and the right to join trade union. And successful interventions saving lives in Kosovo and limbs (‘long sleeve or short sleeve’) in Sierra Leone.
All of which were endorsed by UK and Scottish voters in three successive elections. So possibly not really that poisonous, was he?
And student fees? Isn’t that about helping the worst off into higher education, Jim?
True. Except that when you look at the outcomes, it is not. First, the policy ignores (and contributes to) the situation whereby 140,000 places at Further Education colleges have been cut. In other words, in order to allow a millionaire’s child so to get free tuition at St Andrew’s, unemployed people must go without ‘second chance’ and returners courses which would get them into employment. Secondly, if the aim was to get more young people from poorer backgrounds into university, that has not worked either.
Outcomes on that front are more positive in England where graduates repay tuition fees when they have a good job.
But the war in Iraq? Jim Murphy was responsible for going to war on the lie of WMDs, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands, wasn’t he?
Of course. Except for not knowing in 2003 what we know now. Especially on the question of WMD, which were believed to have been in Iraq by everyone from the world’s major intelligence services to Ming Campbell, Tony Benn and George Galloway. And that George W. Bush would endorse the most calamitous single decision possible by Paul Bremer, to disband the Iraqi army and security forces, causing the chaos and mass murder which followed.
Actually, it is quite hard to see how Jim Murphy is especially to blame for Iraq.
And Better Together: that just shows Labour as another set of Tories, doesn’t it?
Well, possibly – but only if you think Scottish independence is more important than having a credible currency, and an economy not dependent on oil that is now worth only half what it needs to if public services are going to be affordable even today, let alone later when an ageing population has its effect. (Ask John Swinney.)
And Trident: anyone who won’t scrap it is a warmonger addicted WMDs, isn’t he?
Some might be. But not in the Labour Party, which has a long-term commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament. Which would actually get rid of more warheads and more weapons systems from the UK than any march to Aldermaston or demo at Faslane has ever achieved.
Greenham Common is proof positive of this: the Peace Camps achieved zero disarmament while international agreement closed the base.
My compelling reason for wanting Jim Murphy to do some explaining is this: I want him to be the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
And the reason I want that is that if he does become leader, he will be on the spot to take to task some of the most enduring and unwarranted myths which persist about Labour.
For example, some say that many people tell them that they feel “let down by Labour”. How do they suggest that we respond: should we meekly say ‘it wisnae me’ or ‘we are so sorry, it won’t happen again?’
Or should we mount a fierce and determined defence of the achievements of the Blair and Brown governments: by listing all of the above, and more, such as doubling and tripling NHS expenditure, transforming Glasgow’s housing stock, lifting 1 million children out of poverty and increasing incomes for the poorest in the UK year on year?
Or to take another specific example, we are told that Labour has lost the Scottish Muslim Asian vote because of Iraq. Who is pointing out that the Muslim people of Kosovo were saved from genocide by the interventions of Labour in power – or that over 2 million Muslim girls go to school in Afghanistan because of our actions?
The point is that Jim Murphy will be asked these questions. He will unable to avoid them, nor to wish Labour’s record in power away. He will need to admit to Labour’s undoubted failings, but also take on the critics and the enemies of the Labour Party and defeat them.
He will need to lash himself to the mast of Labour values and record and convince the Scottish people that we will serve them by delivering policies and programmes inspired by those values.
It will be a tough task. But because of Labour’s record is Jim Murphy’s record, he will need to fight on it. And because that record is one to be proud of, he can win.
That is why I am voting for Jim Murphy: because he has to deliver to Scotland some much-needed explaining about Scottish Labour, about what we stand for and –crucially – what we can achieve again in future.