No-one can say that Jim Murphy has not made a good start as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party: not only has he hit the ground running, but he has grasped the importance of setting the news agenda.
First, he dominated the headlines with his pledge that Labour would use revenues from the Mansion Tax to fund 1,000 extra nurses in Scotland. This is both practical and clever. It is practical because it addresses issues at the heart of the concerns of the people of Scotland – are they getting the service they need from the NHS from the SNP Scottish Government?
It is clever because the resources to make the improvements required would be drawn from UK revenues, and a tax which would be levied on the rich who are overwhelmingly located in London and the southeast of England. Those who are unhappy about this need to know that outside their circles, no-one actually believes that a £2 million house is an average family home, or that someone in possession of such an asset is poor.
Next, Jim Murphy took a huge step towards repositioning the Scottish Labour Party by proposing his new Clause IV, which will define the party as both “socialist” and “patriotic Scottish” . Our mission is to offer social democracy with a Scottish face.
Many of us might take issue with that formulation: we continue to believe that what divides the society in which we live is not the river Tweed or a border which has for many purposes not existed for 300 years, but poverty and class. However, if we are to accept the ‘democrat’ part as well as the ‘social’ part of social democrat, we must also take on board what was revealed in the referendum campaign.
In short, many Scots, including many on the left, no longer share a belief in one single working class movement. Our colleagues who spoke at many referendum meetings at trade union branches and community meetings all report the same thing: that many activists now feel that their loyalty to other workers elsewhere in the UK is less important than their relationship to other Scots. It is illogical, and it flies in the face of 150 years of radical and socialist class analysis, but the evidence is there of 197,000 Labour voters who believed that independence was preferable to pan-UK solidarity.
The referendum outcome and opinion polls since tell us that the transition from the Scottish Council of the Labour Party to the Scottish Labour Party should be completed, and Jim Murphy has set out his intention to do just that. The goal in doing so is to attract those Labour voters back in time to make a difference in the General Election.
Again, those of us who fought for a No vote and celebrated a great victory on the night of 18th September may find it hard to take; however there are two good reasons to do so.
The first is the political interests of our Party and of those we represent. The electoral mathematics are such that to achieve a UK Labour victory in May, we need Labour seats in Scotland, and the kind of wipe-out indicated by the opinion polls would be a catastrophe for working people and the least well-off across the UK. Labour is nothing if it is not a party of power.
The second reason is of benefit to Scotland as a whole: politically and socially. The effect of the referendum has been destructive and polarising, with individuals characterised by which way they voted, as any quick examination of social media, newspaper correspondence pages (or indeed online reaction to articles such as this) will show.
It is incumbent on Scotland’s leaders to seek to heal these divisions, before – as one MSP says – “the question in Scottish regarding which school you went to is replaced by the question: did you vote Yes or No?” The new Clause IV is an indication that both are respected and valued within Labour’s coalition of interests.
We can discuss the merits or otherwise of independence if and when there is ever another referendum, but in the meantime we can work together to create a better Scotland and a better UK. And what is immediate and certain is that in May 2015 we have a General Election to contest where the choice is Ed Miliband or David Cameron as Prime Minister.
So Jim Murphy’s leadership is proving to be not only energetic , but also radical in seeking to work in the interests of the Scottish Labour Party and of Scotland itself. It is also challenging the membership to look at ourselves and define where we stand in the political context of a post-referendum Scotland.
Above all, his approach is one that is addressing longstanding political shortcomings – it is designed to win votes by listening to the electorate. We can expect this to continue, as from now till May we need to set off regular political bombs which will grab the headlines and expose the SNP’s failures in eight years of lame and ineffectual government. We can expect a detonation every week at least between now and May, then daily during the campaign itself.
The task is enormous, and it is a battle for Labour’s life in Scotland, but the way things are going, we have a fighting chance. Keep up the good work, Jim.