Former Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont (Photo via)
Late on Friday evening, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party Johann Lamont suddenly resigned, effectively pressing the party’s self-destruct button on her way out.
On Lamont's part, it seems a strange decision. Having just played a key role in thwarting the fight for Scottish independence, so that Scotland can keep on sending MPs down to Westminster, she abruptly revealed that she too has had quite enough of er… Westminster. In an interview splashed across Saturday’s Daily Record, Lamont railed against her Labour colleagues in London, calling them “dinosaurs” who don’t understand Scottish politics. Lamont was one of the leaders of the No campaign, and her comments reflect the predicament that Scottish Labour have found themselves in since the referendum.
Having fronted a campaign that was heavily bankrolled by Tory donors, the party then saw much of their voter base swing towards independence, with the Yes vote highest in traditional working-class Labour areas. Since then, the party has split its time between soul searching and bitter infighting, a process that culminated in Lamont’s sudden resignation on Friday. Within hours, Nicola Sturgeon – who, as the SNP’s new leader, is set to take the reins as First Minister once Alex Salmond steps down – was claiming that Labour are in “meltdown”, and most observers seem to agree. (Everyone, that is, except backbench Labour MSP Hanzala Malik, who helpfully interjected on Monday that “the Scottish Labour Party is not an ice lolly so we’re not melting anywhere”.)
Relations between the warring Labour factions weren't helped when Chuka Umunna – a leading light of UK Labour – discovered he couldn’t even name more than two members of his own party’s Holyrood frontbench when quizzed by the BBC. Which is fair enough; it’s not like Scottish affairs have dominated the news recently or anything.
Jum Murphy (centre) hanging out in a supermarket with Labour supporter Eddie Izzard (Photo via)
Anyway, to prove once and for all how in tune with the electorate they are, a prime leadership candidate soon emerged in the form of Jim Murphy, an eager Blairite who is too right of centre even for Ed Miliband, who demoted him last year. For a party fretting about all the working-class votes they're shedding, and with Nicola Sturgeon nicking more by tacking the SNP to the left, it seems strange that they’d go for a man who voted in favour of capping benefits, is a big fan of nuclear subs and who was condemned as being “dictatorial” in Parliament before he was even an MP. On the other hand, he does have a bit of public profile, so at least Chuka Umunna will be able to remember his name.
Indeed, Murphy spent most of the referendum campaign on a solo street-preaching mission, travelling around Scotland with an Irn Bru crate soapbox and a determination to wind up as many Yes voters as possible. When he was pelted with an egg in Kirkcaldy, his decision to suspend his tour somehow managed to dominate the news agenda for days. At the time, cynics suggested his PR-focused “100 streets” tour was possibly a precursor to a future leadership bid and – well, just look where we are now.
Meanwhile, whatever passes for the left within Labour these days are gurgling with excitement at the prospect of a bona fide socialist – the kind of guy who writes articles in the Morning Star calling on Labour to adopt a radical leftist programme – standing as well. That man, Neil Findlay, is their current shadow health minister at Holyrood and looks likely to stand against Murphy, in a clear right-left brawl for the leadership. But whether Findlay could really push his radical demands on the party is unclear, given that it’s now emerged that Johann Lamont wasn’t even allowed to say she was against the Bedroom Tax until Ed Miliband had spent a year making up his mind whether or not to oppose it.
Most of the other potential candidates, including Gordon Brown, have already ruled themselves out. Whoever wins will face an ascendant SNP, its membership at least six times that of Labour and with a leader whose upcoming rally at the 12,000-capacity Glasgow Hydro arena, as part of a national tour, sold out within a day. It’s still true, though, that many of Labour’s MPs in Scotland enjoy colossal majorities that will be a challenge for the SNP to overturn. Of Scotland’s 59 MPs, 41 went to Labour at the last election and the number of the party’s “dinosaurs” heading back in 2015 may not be much reduced.
Whichever way the Scottish leadership contest goes, Ed Miliband seems unlikely to profit. Findlay may prove to be awkward for a UK Labour government pushing spending cuts, while Murphy could lead an insurgency from the right if Labour fail to win next year. Although Halloween will come and go in a few days, the Scottish Labour horrorshow shows no signs of abating.
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