Tom Peterkin: Jim Murphy has a fight on his hands

Jim Murphy has styled himself as his own man leading his own party during his campaign for the leadership. Picture: John Devlin
Jim Murphy has styled himself as his own man leading his own party during his campaign for the leadership. Picture: John Devlin
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Ever since Jim Murphy announced that he would be standing for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party, he has been praised for making all the right noises.

The spring that has appeared in the steps of the MSPs who backed him for the leadership signals some real hope that Labour can make progress.

Murphy’s rhetoric about tackling poverty whilst sending a pro-wealth message that appeals to the aspirational sounds attractive.

In this post-referendum era, he has also made much of running a Scottish party that is autonomous from London Labour. After the manner of Johann Lamont’s departure, he had no option other than to do that.

Lamont left complaining that London treated its Scottish arm like a “branch office”. Compounding her anger were attempts by the Westminster party to replace the Scottish Labour general secretary Ian Price without consulting her.

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To rid Scottish Labour of the suggestion that it is in thrall to its UK leadership, Murphy has styled himself as his own man leading his own party during his campaign for the leadership.

When he was asked, for example, if he had consulted Ed Miliband and Ed Balls on his plans to raise the top rate of income tax in Scotland, Murphy said they could read about it in the papers like everyone else.

That sort of dismissive attitude got his message over effectively. But now that he has been elected he may find things are a bit more complicated.

It follows that, for Scottish Labour to be truly autonomous, it should be responsible for raising its own money. Like parents who resent bailing out their children once they have left home, UK Labour is hardly likely to take kindly to continually coming up with the dosh to sustain an off-shoot that is determined to go its own way.

Murphy does recognise this and has set Scottish Labour an ambitious target of raising £1 million to fight next year’s general election. It is a tough ask, but not impossible. It will involve much work to widen the party’s appeal to beyond the relatively few, mostly west coast-based entrepreneurs, who have given generously to Labour before.

Murphy also recognises that he is up against an SNP with unprecedented access to big money. That explained his reluctance to cut the purse strings with the rest of the party and its trade union affiliates when asked about funding earlier this week.

The new leader said he wanted Scottish Labour to become “more self-sufficient”. But he added that he saw no reason to “voluntarily tie one hand behind my back” and reject UK money.

It seems that Murphy is not quite ready to close Scottish Labour’s account with the bank of mum and dad.

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