Scottish Labour in civil war over strategy

Jim Murphy visits a Glasgow primary school yesterday as civil war gripped his party. Picture: John Devlin

Jim Murphy visits a Glasgow primary school yesterday as civil war gripped his party. Picture: John Devlin

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SCOTTISH Labour is gripped in a civil war over where to concentrate its resources to take on the surge by the SNP and hold on to some of its 41 seats north of the Border.

After the latest round of constituency polls from the former Tory Treasurer Lord Ashcroft, which showed that 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats could fall to the SNP, senior Labour figures have told The Scotsman that Scottish party leader Jim Murphy is concentrating money and campaigners in the wrong places.

With the Scottish Labour party due to hold its conference in Edinburgh tomorrow, several MPs have demanded that the party forgets trying to save the west of Scotland while one said that they should abandon Glasgow.

At the heart of the angry internal debate is Mr Murphy’s focus on the 200,000 former Labour voters who supported independence and he believes will make the difference in Scotland and deliver a Labour majority in Westminster.

Most of the 200,000 are in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, but the Ashcroft polls have revealed that in all parts of the country Labour seats are at risk.

Alarm bells rang over the major swings in former prime minister Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency and ex-chancellor Alistair Darling’s Edinburgh South West seat, both of which would fall to the Nationalists.

The row over strategy has emerged as UK Labour leader Ed Miliband has continued to resist demands that he rules out any deal with the SNP despite being handed an ultimatum to do so by an “overwhelming majority” of his Scottish MPs.

One MP said: “We really should forget about anywhere west of the Lothians and concentrate on areas which voted strongly No.”

The MP added: “Jim [Murphy] has got most things right so far but his one mistake is not being brutally honest with some MPs that resources need to go elsewhere.”

There is anger that seats in the east such as the ones in the Lothians, Edinburgh and Fife have been privately designated as ones the party will win and resources instead are being focussed in seats in Glasgow and the west of Scotland.

One senior figure said: “We really need to forget about places like Airdrie and Shotts or Margaret Curran’s seat [Glasgow East]. We have probably lost those. We should probably hold on to Willie’s [Bain] seat [Glasgow North East]. At this rate he will be the next Scottish secretary because there will be nobody else left standing.”

There was also a concern raised that Ms Curran was “using her position” as shadow Scottish secretary to divert resources to her seat and Glasgow.

But a source close to Ms ­Curran hit back, suggesting that those complaining have not put together a campaign team of local activists to defend their seats.

He said: “This is nonsense. Margaret is sharing an organiser with other seats in Glasgow and she is relying on local activists.

“There is no special treatment, it is all about us knuckling down and trying to defend our seats.”

Questions have also been asked within the party over why money and resources are been spent on former targets which Labour do not currently hold, ­including Edinburgh West, which is one of the seats to receive money from the £106,000 donated by former prime minister Tony Blair.

A senior Scottish party figure said: “It is mystifying why the party is putting resources into seats like Edinburgh West. We are fighting a defensive election, we should forget about winning new seats.”

It has been pointed out that, in the past six elections, Labour has lost just five seats in Scotland – Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey, East Dunbartonshire, the Western Isles, Dundee East and Aberdeen South.

One MP told The Scotsman: “The trouble is our Westminster group has never contemplated defeat. Even with the SNP winning the Holyrood elections, we have always assumed the vote would come back and this time it looks like it might not.”

Last night, Scottish Labour tried to play down the splits within the party and warned votes for the SNP would mean a Tory government is more likely.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We need to do everything we can to stop the Tories being the largest party, and the way to do that is to vote for Scottish Labour.”

POSSIBLE TARGETS

Aberdeen North

Aberdeen South

Dunfermline and West Fife

Dumfries and Galloway

East Lothian

East Renfrewshire

Edinburgh East

Edinburgh North and Leith

Edinburgh South

Edinburgh South West

Glenrothes

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

Livingston

Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Midlothian

North Ayrshire and Arran

Ochil and south Perthshire

Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Stirling

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