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Can Jim Murphy hang on as leader of Scottish Labour amid calls for him to resign?

One Scottish Labour shadow cabinet member has quit, and two unions call for Murphy to resign.

When Jim Murphy was voted leader of Scottish Labour in December last year, he knew he had a hard road ahead. But the party didn't expect to fail quite so spectacularly, losing all but one of its Scottish seats in Westminster to the SNP. Including Murphy's seat, East Renfrewshire.

Following a bleak general election result for Labour throughout the UK, Murphy has decided to remain leader. He replied "yes" when asked if he could still become Scotland's First Minister in next year's Holyrood election.

But will he really be able to hang on to his position? There are calls within the party for his resignation. Ian Davidson, the Labour candidate who lost his Glasgow South West seat to the SNP, is urging Murphy to stand down as leader:

He was elected as party leader on the basis that he was an MP. Only MPs and MSPs can stand for the leadership. Morally, as the man who has led us to the biggest ever disaster that Labour has suffered in Scotland . . . of course he can’t continue. 

The process of rebuilding the Labour party has got to start with an examination of both personnel and ideas. And therefore Jim has got to do the honourable thing and resign. I’m sure once he has got time to reflect, he will do that.

Neil Findlay MSP, the leftwing candidate who ran against Murphy for the leadership, resigned from his position as work, skills and training spokesperson in Labour's shadow cabinet in the Scottish Parliament.

Two unions are calling for Murphy to resign - the influential Unite, and ASLEF, the train drivers' union.

The Scottish secretary of Unite, Pat Rafferty, said:

Change must begin with a new leader. It is surprising that Jim Murphy should feel he still has a mandate to lead the party after Thursday‘s results. I do not say this out of any personal animus.

Jim fought a courageous campaign, and the party’s problems clearly long predate his leadership. But staying on as leader will only prolong the party’s agony. Scottish Labour must be rebuilt from the ground up, free from the taint of machine politics and the legacy of the misjudgements of the last Labour government.

And ASLEF's Kevin Lindsay -  who represents the union's Scottish train drivers - commented:

Jim Murphy has just presided over the worst election defeat in the history of the Scottish Labour Party. He has to go — and he has to go now.

Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg, and even Nigel Farage have all stood down, accepting responsibility for, and the consequences of, defeat for their parties at the polls. It is, therefore, quite clear to most of us in the Scottish Labour Party what the right thing is for Jim Murphy to do.

Ironically, those four are still Parliamentarians. Jim Murphy isn’t. His position is untenable. What he does not appear to understand is that, with being leader, comes responsibility. Now Jim Murphy’s moral judgement is being questioned by the Scottish people as he tries desperately to cling on. 

Without anyone in place to defend him at Westminster, and fears of next year's Holyrood election among Labour's MSPs, will Murphy be able to hang on much longer? 

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.