Ian Murray attacks Labour leadership's “clumsy” relationship with Scotland

Scotland’s only Labour MP, who today launched his deputy leadership bid, told the NS that the party had been harmed by its ambiguity on a second independence referendum.

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In the wake of Labour’s general election defeat, you could be forgiven for thinking that Scotland – the birthplace of the last two Labour prime ministers – has become something of an afterthought for many at the top of the party.

But in an interview with the New Statesman, Ian Murray – the sole Labour MP north of Hadrian's Wall (representing Edinburgh South) – today set out a pitch for the deputy leadership that aims to remind the party of its Scottish roots.

“The Labour Party throughout its most successful periods has always had Scots at the top of the party,” Murray, the former shadow Scotland secretary, said. 

“One of the reasons I've thrown my hat into the ring is – yes to have a Scottish voice at the top of the UK Labour Party, but also because I understand devolution.”

Following leadership candidate Clive Lewis’s call in the Guardian today for a “devo-max federal structure", Murray echoed the growing party consensus on greater Scottish devolution.

“The places crying out for Labour to be a credible force in government are the places where devolution is most needed,” he said. 

Murray, who fought off a Unite attempt to deselect him in advance of the election, criticised the current Labour leadership’s “confused” and “clumsy” relationship with Scotland. The party lost six of its seven Scottish seats at the general election, leaving Murray once again as the last man standing – a position he previously found himself in during the parliament of 2015-2017.

“We are slightly equivocating on a second independence referendum. The thing that was most annoying about that was that it just wasn't party policy. You can’t change major party policy at the Edinburgh festival like John McDonnell tried to do.”

In the summer McDonnell told an event at the fringe that he believed the Scottish parliament ought to have the right to decide whether a second independence referendum should be held. 

“It was clumsy, it was disrespectful, it created the narrative for the entirety of the election campaign,” Murray told the NS

The Scottish Labour MP faces an uphill battle in the race for deputy leadership after shadow education secretary Angela Rayner demonstrated the breadth of her support yesterday. Meanwhile, popular Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan also launched her campaign today with a Twitter video that has already received more than 100,000 views.

On the leadership contest, Murray said that he would be advising all the candidates on issues concerning Scotland and devolution, but would not be publicly endorsing any of them. However, a clue to where his private loyalties might lie was shown by his decision to retweet Jess Phillips's campaign video last week soon after its release.

“The party has to decide one of two things,” said Murray of the upcoming leadership contest. “Does it want to be an alternative government or does it want to be a party of protest? If we have a different face and a different voice but the same direction, it will be a disaster for the Labour Party.”

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George Grylls is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2019.