Scottish Labour dinosaurs ‘failed to evolve’

Labour's Douglas Alexander shakes hands with the victor in his Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat, 20-year-old Mhairi Black. Picture: Lesley Martin
Labour's Douglas Alexander shakes hands with the victor in his Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat, 20-year-old Mhairi Black. Picture: Lesley Martin
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SCOTTISH Labour has failed to challenge the SNP on its left-of-centre policies and to “adapt to devolution”, senior figures in the party claimed yesterday.

The stark warning came as the party’s Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, said he still believed he can be Scotland’s First Minister next year, despite presiding over the party’s worst Westminster election result since 1924 as the party held just one seat and he lost his own seat of East Renfrewshire to the SNP.

Labour’s Frank Doran, who was first elected as a Scottish MP in 1987 before stepping down this year, said the party had failed to come to terms with former long-standing supporters switching to the SNP.

Mr Doran, whose former seat of Aberdeen North was an SNP gain, said Labour had failed to come up with an answer to the way the SNP had repositioned ­itself as the main centre-left party in Scotland.

He warned that former ­Labour supporters may continue to vote for the SNP, and claimed backing for the Nationalists was often like allegiance to a football team.

Mr Doran said: “We’ve got to accept a lot of responsibility for what’s happened as we’ve never properly adjusted to the Scottish Parliament. We’ve also never properly adjusted to the SNP ­appearing to some to be a centre-left party that goes for the same territory as Labour.

“I see the way in which the SNP is supported by people who used to support us. I don’t know how long that’s going to go on for, but it’s almost like people supporting a football team rather than a political party.”

Mr Murphy refused to resign as Scottish Labour leader, stating that he and his deputy, MSP Kezia Dugdale, had not had enough time to rebuild the party.

At a press conference in Glasgow, he insisted he wanted to be the leader of the fightback, adding: “Yes, this is a body blow for our party, but we are determined to offer a period of stability, we are ­determined to help lead our party back.

“We know it has been a bloody awful night for the Scottish Labour Party and, more importantly, it’s a dreadful result across the UK for working-class families who need a change.”

Asked how much personal responsibility he felt for the near wipeout, Mr Murphy insisted that Labour “carries the can”.

He said: “There is no shirking away from this … there is a ­responsibility in good times and in bad times as a leader.

“Our determination is to rebuild from here, to rebuild with a continued sense of energy, with a continued sense of teamwork, thanking our ­activists.”

Another senior Scottish Labour figure, David Hamilton, who stepped down as the Midlothian MP at the election, said the party had been “crucified” due to anger over the defeat of independence, which he claimed had led to a surge in SNP support.

Mr Hamilton said: “We’ve got to go right back to the drawing board and start again.

“I don’t see the SNP as a left-of-centre party, but clearly a lot of people in Scotland do and that has harmed us.

“The referendum crucified us as the problem was that the general election was too near the referendum and people were still smarting from that.

“We’re in a dangerous position as this could now lead to the break-up of the UK and it’s also possible that David Cameron could call the SNP’s bluff over full fiscal autonomy.”

John Park, assistant general secretary of the Community trade union, said Labour should remake itself as a “mass movement”.

The former Labour MSP said: “We haven’t fully adapted to devolution in the way the SNP did, so we need to learn lessons from them as they had their own issues at the start, but worked hard on them.”

He added: “We’re seen as part of a wider Westminster class, which people are still upset about over MPs expenses and other issues. People see us as being out of touch, whereas they see the SNP as something fresh and new.

“We need to focus on being a mass movement again like in 1997. I’d say that a win next year is a big ask, but Labour has endured tough times before and got to the other side.”

Mr Park backed Mr Murphy’s refusal to quit as leader before the Holyrood elections in 2016.

Meanwhile, Labour veteran Tam Dalyell, the former West Lothian MP, said the creation of the Scottish Parliament had led to the rise of the SNP.

He said: “Once you have an ­organisation that calls itself a parliament this was always going happen. I saw it coming and I’m not in the least surprised about these results for Labour.

“However, I’m against instant decisions and it’s not sensible to make them when people are tired after a long campaign.”