Jim Murphy: Labour party ‘open to Yes voters’

Jim Murphy has put forward a new wording for the party's constitution. Picture: Hemedia

Jim Murphy has put forward a new wording for the party's constitution. Picture: Hemedia

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JIM Murphy yesterday moved Scottish Labour away from its historic commitment to the UK by proposing a new constitution signalling that the party is open to supporters of independence.

JIM Murphy yesterday moved Scottish Labour away from its historic commitment to the UK by proposing a new constitution signalling that the party is open to supporters of independence.

The newly elected Scottish Labour leader yesterday put forward a new wording for the party’s constitution that pledges its members to work “for the patriotic interest” of the people of Scotland.

The new form of words has been deliberately drafted in a bid to attract Yes voters and to send a message that Murphy’s Labour will not be defined solely by its stance on the constitution during last year’s referendum.

A source close to Murphy said the wording underlined the party’s commitment to a “powerful and permanent” Scottish Parliament, and ­added: “It doesn’t say it’s a ­devolved or independent ­parliament so Yes voters can feel at home with our new constitution.”

The move comes amid concern that the referendum has resulted in the party being overwhelmingly characterised as unionist.

The new clause, which was approved at a meeting of Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee, is being presented by Murphy as a “Clause Four” moment.

Murphy is hopeful a shift of emphasis could secure the support of the 190,000 Labour voters who backed a Yes vote last September.

The new constitution, which will be debated at a special one-day conference in March, makes clear that the Scottish party will have full policy autonomy on issues devolved to Holyrood.

Speaking after the meeting, Murphy said: “Today is a defining moment in Scottish Labour’s fresh start. We are a renewed party for a post-referendum era in Scottish politics. I want Yes and No voters alike to be able to look at the purpose and principles of the Scottish Labour party and find a home there. We are a proudly Scottish party, committed to social justice. Our values, renewed today, are those of the Scottish people. After today, the whole of Scotland will be in no doubt that Scottish Labour will always put Scotland first and decisions about Scotland will be made here in Scotland.”

The change was attacked by the SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie, who claimed voters had “heard it all before”, saying that Murphy’s predecessor Johann Lamont had claimed to be taking complete control of Scottish Labour, but had quit claiming to be undermined by the London arm of the party.

Undeterred, Murphy developed his theme of winning back the Yes voters who have deserted Labour in an interview with Scotland on Sunday.

Murphy suggested that without the prize of a referendum on offer, many Yes supporters would come to the conclusion a Labour vote was the best way of defeating the Conservatives in May’s general election.

He also attacked Alex Salmond, accusing the former First Minister of undermining Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP by announcing last week that he would campaign for “home rule” rather than a second independence referendum. Murphy said Salmond’s remarks showed that he was driving SNP policy, rather than his successor.

“I think Alex Salmond has made Nicola Sturgeon’s first big strategic error,” Murphy told Scotland on Sunday. “First of all it is an entirely new departure. It is a new policy announced by the ex-leader rather than the new incumbent. I am not sure he is a back seat driver. On this, he is sitting in the front seat. If the SNP wanted to move away from independence, I would have expected the leader to have announced it, rather than yesterday’s man. Whether he regrets resigning or whether he hasn’t realised he has resigned, I have no idea.”

Murphy claimed that Salmond’s conversion to home Rule would dismay independence supporters.

“Up until Alex’s interview a lot of decent Yes people would have been saying it should be about ‘should we or shouldn’t we have another referendum’. Well that’s gone. Alex Salmond has taken it off the table for Nicola Sturgeon. A really important moment and a really significant mistake.

“Why do I say that? Because the dyed in the wool Yes people will now have another place to go – the Greens or the SSP. And the majority who voted Yes to get rid of the Tories now have a clear path to get rid of the Tories, because they are unencumbered by the sense that this is referendum round two.”

Moreover, Murphy questioned the wisdom of the SNP pursuing the goal of a home rule settlement – as envisaged by Salmond – that would see all power devolved to Holyrood, save defence and foreign affairs.

There would be pensioners who would be alarmed by the impact on their state pension were it not to be backed by the broad shoulders of the UK, Murphy argued.

There was also the question of the economic implications of home rule at the end of a week that saw the oil price plummet to under $50 a barrel – a huge fall from the $110 price on which the SNP based its plans for a separate economy. “Every idea has its time. You have got to question Alex’s sense of timing. There is a time for the SNP to make that argument. It is a peculiar time for them to make it as motorists notice and enjoy the huge cuts in the price of petrol in the forecourt. As I was driving down here it was £1.06 for unleaded,” Murphy said.

“The motorists can see the cut in petrol prices. I think increasing numbers of them would know that in an independent country – or even Alex’s policy if we were reliant entirely on our own tax base except foreign affairs and defence – the cut in petrol price on the forecourts would be matched by cuts in schools and hospitals and communities. So it is a peculiar thing to argue.”

Murphy also promised he will keep the council tax freeze, free university tuition, free care for the elderly and free prescriptions in Scotland if he becomes the nation’s First Minister by emphatically underlined his commitment to Scotland’s universal services.

In a marked departure from the approach taken by his predecessor Johann Lamont, Murphy said he was fully committed to retaining the populist but expensive policies.

Despite the furore over his proposal to use mansion tax raised in London to pay for 1,000 Scottish nurses, Murphy said the levy could also be used to help pay for freebie policies north of the Border. When asked if he was totally committed to universalism and the council tax freeze, Murphy answered: “Yes. The new income source will come from taxing the 16,000 highest earners in Scotland and using the mansion tax, tobacco tax and others.”

A controversial feature of Lamont’s leadership was her attempt to question how free universal services could be afforded. She set up a body to examine the affordability of free tuition fees, free elderly care and free prescriptions to end what she described as Scotland’s “something for nothing” culture. The conclusions arrived at by the body, which the SNP nicknamed “Labour’s Cuts Commission”, were never made public – leading to suggestions that the adverse publicity had led to the work being kicked into the long grass.

“If it is in the long grass I am going to find it and put it in the bin,” Murphy said.

“Look, we are committed to universalism and we will find additional resources that the SNP can’t or won’t reach. For me it is a sense that we will do this because it is the right thing to do. So we will use resources that they [the SNP] won’t use or can’t use. They won’t use the 50p top rate of tax, even though they have been arguing for it for so long. And they can’t use the mansion tax because it is a UK-wide tax. We will stick to the universalism.

“Johann’s argument was [that it was] something for nothing. I just believe in a something for something – you’ve worked hard, you’ve paid your taxes. You’ve paid in all those years and you deserve something back. That’s fair. The Labour party has to be a party that supports people who have never been able to afford to pay in – the genuinely vulnerable. But that cannot be at the expense of those who have paid in.”

Murphy’s pronouncements on how the cash raised by the mansion tax in London would be used in Scotland proved controversial last week.

His suggestion that it would fund 1,000 Scottish nurses saw him under fire from an unlikely alliance of Boris Johnson and the Labour’s London mayoral candidate Diane Abbott.

Murphy brushed off their concerns while defending his right to draft policies without Ed Miliband’s say-so.

“Ed and I talk a lot. But he doesn’t consult me and he doesn’t seek my permission on policy that only applies to England and Wales, and I don’t need his clearance for policy that only applies in Scotland,” Murphy said. But with the UK leader facing a barrage of criticism over anything and everything from his economic policy to his bacon sandwich-eating abilities, what was Murphy’s view? Was Miliband a weak leader?

“My view is that he is strong. He makes big calls,” Murphy said, before adding: “The mansion tax is his policy. That’s the irony of some people in the Labour party down south kicking me. I am arguing for a redistributive policy. Do we really want a world where all of the wealth stays in London and Aberdeen?”

Chatting in his East Renfrewshire constituency office, Murphy refused to offer any fresh insight into the big question of how he intends to engineer himself a Holyrood seat. But other than on that topic, he talked expansively as he outlined the problems his party faced at the coming general election.

Looking ahead to May’s poll, he talked about instilling “self-belief”, “work-rate” and a hunger for victory.

Portraying May’s poll as a straight two-sided fight between Labour and the Conservatives lies at the heart of his plans to win back support from the SNP, which benefited from a surge of traditional Labour supporters during the referendum campaign.

Taking time out in his East Renfrewshire constituency office, Murphy hammered home his message that an SNP vote increases the chances of a David Cameron victory.

“If you play team sports, coming second means you come last,” Murphy said. “In Scottish politics there are more than two teams. But in the UK election there is one or the other. It is Cameron in or Cameron out.

“If you vote for Alex Salmond you end up with David Cameron as Prime Minister. I know that the vast, vast majority of SNP supporters – the very last, last thing they want is David Cameron holding on by his finger nails.

“I am not trying to persuade all SNP voters to become passionate Labour supporters, but most are viscerally anti-Tory and the only way to get a fresh start is to defeat the incumbent. The biggest party gets to form the government and any seat the SNP takes from the Scottish Labour party reduces the size of the Labour party and increases the chances of David Cameron hanging on.” But try as he might to argue that the 7 May contest is a two-sided match, the reality in Scotland is somewhat different. Winning over Yes supporters will be challenging, to say the least. The post-referendum political landscape has seen an astonishing rise in SNP membership and polls suggesting the SNP will demolish Labour north of the Border.

To succeed in his goal of winning the election in Scotland and holding on to Labour’s 41 seats, Murphy realises he has to do more than bash the SNP. Ruling out any Labour deals with other pro-UK parties to keep the SNP out, Murphy’s priority is to get his own house in order and create a positive vision for Labour.

In a barely concealed criticism of his predecessor Lamont, Murphy suggested that the Scottish party had devoted too much energy to being anti-SNP. Murphy said the party had not been “packing enough of a punch” in the past.

Now was the time to build firm policy foundations.

“It is about confidence, about standing for something,” Murphy said. “If you stand on your own ground and it is solid ground, I think you can make careful and coherent criticisms of other people. But if all you do is stand in the quick sand of criticism you sink. Sometimes all of us in the Scottish Labour Party in the recent past have done that. That is finished with.”

The gospel, according to Murphy, is firmly focused on taking on the Conservatives at the general election while winning over voters from the SNP.

“The Labour party is up against two of the most ruthless electoral machines that is has ever faced, simultaneously,” said Murphy. “We are up against a British Tory party, which is ferocious and we are up against a Scottish National Party which is certainly, really determined. But you vote for the determined one and you will end up with the ferocious one.”

Aims and Values

The Scottish Labour Party is a democratic socialist party rooted in social justice, which seeks to represent the people of Scotland. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect. To these ends we work for the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland:

• For the success of a permanent and powerful Scottish Parliament.

• Decisions on policy that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament will be decided by the Scottish Labour Party.

• In common purpose with all parts of the Labour Party and Labour Movement across the UK for the advancement of Scotland’s interests and the benefit of all.

• With the Scottish people, to create policy in Scotland for a just society, a prosperous economy, a vibrant cultural life, and a more sustainable, democratic Scotland.

• With others, across the UK and internationally, to unlock the potential of all and to create a fairer society.

Scottish Labour will work towards these aims with trade unions and the co-operative movement, and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

On the basis of these principles, Scottish Labour seeks the trust of the Scottish people to govern.

Original text

Aims and Values

The Scottish Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

To these ends we work within Scotland for the aims and objectives of the Labour Party.

Labour will work in pursuit of these aims with trade unions and co-operative societies and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

On the basis of these principles, Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.

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