No man: Jim Murphy and his Irn Bru crates hit Edinburgh's Grassmarket. Photo: Getty
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Jim Murphy: on the road in Scotland for the No campaign

Barked at by a dog, watched by a Pet Shop Boy and heckled by a Yes-supporting horse.

Thursday

In the course of our tour of Scotland in the referendum campaign, we’ve changed the way we organise the meetings. We don’t invite an audience beyond a few supporters. Increasingly the meetings are about trying to persuade “yet to make my mind up” Scots. Many are now organised by word of mouth or are entirely impromptu. Fortunately for those of us campaigning for a No, Thanks vote, Scots have a very British attitude to queues. Often when they see a crowd forming they simply join in. So the meetings have sometimes started small and grown to a few hundred within minutes.

I did one such meeting tonight outside the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art with the Scots comedian Andy Cameron as my warm-up act. Hundreds of Glaswegians rushing home decided to miss their bus or train to join in the conversation. In the distance, at the back of the crowd, I saw Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys, who are in the city to perform for an admittedly bigger audience. No idea if I convinced him.

 

Friday

A day off from the tour to head back to the Commons and a vote on the bedroom tax. This unfair policy applied across the whole of the UK is another reminder that poverty and injustice are blind to nationality and don’t ask about passports before being visited upon families. But to listen to SNP activists during the campaign, you would think hardship is inflicted upon Scots because we are also British. In truth, it’s because we have a Tory government, not a “British” one, that so many families still suffer. The SNP cares nothing for the Labour Party and does little for the poor. Despite its social-democratic rhetoric, its only redistribution is from the poor to the more prosperous. They talk left and act right. As if to prove it, only a third of the SNP’s MPs bothered to vote today.

 

Saturday

Another impromptu meeting in Glasgow, this time in Argyle Street, with ten campaigners and hundreds of shoppers. The events in the Commons are already big news on Scotland’s streets. Halfway through my speech, I’m interrupted by a heckle featuring too many swear words for it to bear reprinting in the New Statesman. But it’s another reminder that not all of Scotland’s best comedians are on stage. Even though my tour had me making my debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s more genuine humour in street politics than in parliamentary politics. In Bathgate, a man came out of a Poundland and placed a six-pack of toilet rolls on my crates, with a put-down of: “Big Man, yu’ve been talking shite for an hour, so here – that’s to clean yer mooth oot!” I’ve been barked at by a dog with the word “Freedom” scribbled on it in Biro and heckled by a horse wearing a Yes Scotland blanket. My favourite so far was a man claiming to be “the Oban Seagull Whisperer”. He turned up in the West Highland capital with the sole aim of persuading said seagulls to disrupt our session with the call of nature. I think the bag of chips in his hand was a bigger calling signal than any of his silent sounds.

 

Sunday

I’d always thought that the main risk of having so many public meetings would be Scotland’s unpredictable summer and now autumn weather. But only one meeting has been rained off. A few others have been disrupted in different ways. And while some focus settled on an egg thrower now carrying out community service, I couldn’t care less about how many eggs are aimed at me.

This was about something much more sinister and I’m glad that whoever turned on the tap of that type of aggressive nationalism then quietly turned it off again after I suspended my tour and took police advice. Today, the Daily Telegraph reported that an anti-English group, Siol nan Gaidheal, or “Seed of the Gaels”, was behind some of the disruption. They’d boasted “we have been following Murphy” for “in-your-face confrontations”. A bit like Johnny Cash, they seem always to dress in black. And while he did it for “the poor and beaten down/Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town”, their sartorialism is about our nation’s supposed oppression by our neighbours in the south.

 

Monday

The day starts with a hangover feeling – even though I’m teetotal. Scotland went toe to toe with the world champions last night and, for a while, we looked like we might win. A 2-1 defeat in Germany was the type of performance that feels like a giant step towards Euro 2016 qualification.

 

Tuesday

Early this morning, I used what’s left of my voice on Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about Labour’s plans for accelerated devolution. Gordon Brown announced an accelerated timetable for the Scottish Parliament. It’s the right thing to do and Gordon’s speech setting out the detail has thrown the SNP off its stride. On the radio, I asked Angus Robertson, the often assured SNP leader in Westminster, whether his party would join in the devolution consensus after a No vote. Instead of answering, he reverted to nationalist type by lashing out at John Humphrys and the BBC.

I’m finishing this diary while travelling between Falkirk and Stirling – stops 94 and 95 on my #100Streets tour of Scotland. It’s old-fashioned politics in 100 open-air meetings across the country. It’s just me, my two Irn-Bru crates, a microphone, and whoever turns up. Falkirk was busy and passionate. One of the few hecklers arrived with a violin and played “Scotland the Brave”. It has come to something when the playing of one of Scotland’s great anthems is considered a way of making a political point.

The truth is that the song, the St Andrew’s flag and the country belong to all of us, patriot or nationalist. So, rather than reacting in the way my polite and talented heckler had wanted, I challenged him to strike up our nation’s actual anthem. He and I did a duet – him playing and me singing – from my Irn-Bru crates. 

Jim Murphy is the former Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and leader of Scottish Labour 2014-15.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Britain in meltdown

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.