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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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump