A bleak future? Photo: Getty
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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.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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