Andrew Wilson: Jim Murphy is selling snake oil

Jim Murphy and team must jump up and down and shout as much as possible trying to be heard. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Jim Murphy and team must jump up and down and shout as much as possible trying to be heard. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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WHATEVER else you can accuse the new Scottish Labour leadership of they are certainly finding their voice again.

They use it the way a child uses a new drum; loudly, indiscriminately and without any sense of rhythm. Their approach is disruption, not coherence.

Labour’s once stronghold country has turned its back and closed its ears to it. The depth of this reality is palpable in almost all communities.

Given this, Jim Murphy and team must jump up and down and shout as much as possible trying to be heard.

At this he is proving adept and is well served by a media that happily provide the oxygen of publicity for Murphy’s new regime because they want to rumble things up like he does.

Oxygen is no cure for the wound that Labour’s own conduct has cut to the core of its foundation. It’s keeping the patient alive for now – but publicity is not a sufficient condition for success.

I saw one interview on Buzzfeed where the redoubtable Murphy was feeling jolly pleased with himself. He can’t believe how easy he is finding it, evidently. His opponents aren’t any good it seems. Hmm. Looks like the early onset of the most fatal political failing, underestimating his enemy.

Some advice given freely but with no real hope it lands: the modern SNP is exponentially more disciplined, unified, positive, organised, resourced and strategic than it has ever been, and than the party Jim Murphy inherited. It is also better led with greater trust in its leaders.

Nicola Sturgeon has a deep sense of purpose and comfort in both her own identity and her party’s. She understands that in politics, as in life, timing is everything. She leads a government that carries remarkable trust ratings for this point in the political cycle and is also a thorn in the side of a British establishment, which seems incapable of reform.

Meantime, the Scottish Labour Party is a press office with dubious number of members attached.

I don’t think people care how many members the Labour party has really, but the fact the new leader can only speculate at the number suggests an unwillingness to be transparent.

In turn, perhaps, the capability to say anything brazenly will be the one governing culture of Labour in Scotland for now.

Murphy and his deputy Kezia Dugdale are very capable, talented people. I have no doubt they will be a very effective check on the SNP. But the party has a very long way to go to understand its own purpose let alone communicate it.

Murphy has performed a 180 degree turn on a dizzying array of policies and positions. On fundamentals like tuition fees and council tax Labour have swung behind the SNP having made these same policies the core of their attack for years.

Indeed the only principles that Labour now appear wedded to are spending £100bn proliferating Britain’s un-needed and unuseable weapons of mass destruction and drawing lines in the sand that prevent ­Holyrood gaining substantial responsibilities.

On taxation and the economy their position is to make Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK by raising the top rate of income tax by 5p. This is to demonstrate they are radical, in favour of the workers.

It will “boost” public spending by less than 0.2 per cent assuming that none of the 13,000 or so people it targets decide to live elsewhere. And it sets Scotland up as a higher tax zone while delivering none of the benefits of a Nordic model because everything else stays pretty much the same.

The politics are cynical and unprincipled. The economics could be deeply damaging. The message to the world is retrograde. The country aches for wholesale reform and new ways of thinking. Business and politics need to unify to position Scotland as competitive, creative and fair, to tackle the opportunities and threats that are real.

What we don’t need is a political wheeze out of the 1980s playbook that will take the Scottish body politic for fools. Any politician that tells you robbing a few Peters to pay millions of Pauls is the way to deliver a fairer society is selling you snake oil. What Paul needs most is an education, a good home and the chance to earn a proper living in a country that can compete within a UK, European and world market.

Paul also needs a well-run welfare safety net should things go wrong. But Labour would rather the Tories controlled that than Scotland does. Paul needs his government with the tools to fund itself sustainably and competitively. Again Labour would rather the substance was done by Westminster, even if Tory.

The job of making Scotland stronger and fairer is far more substantial than dancing round the margins with a megaphone hoping the odd socialist-looking firework will distract the masses. The masses are much cleverer than that. «