Scottish Labour infighting reaches new low as MP targeted at meeting

Leadership duo Sarwar and Leonard. Photograph: Steven Scott Taylor
Leadership duo Sarwar and Leonard. Photograph: Steven Scott Taylor
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The battle within Scottish Labour hit a new low this week at a heated meeting at Westminster between the party’s MPs, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

Fanned by an increasingly bitter leadership battle, the flashpoint saw one newly elected MP fire an angry outburst at the party’s most experienced parliamentarian in front of the party’s general secretary.

The Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party (SPLP) gathering saw several MPs challenge Ian Murray over a leaked letter and question his place on the body he chairs, according to a source.

The bad-tempered episode took place in front of Brian Roy, the general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, who was in Westminster for the meeting.

Another party source denied there was any attempt to oust Murray as chairman of the SPLP. The MP who led the attack, Hugh Gaffney, told Scotland on Sunday that he has apologised to Murray over his conduct.

“I got it wrong, and I’ve apologised to Ian,” Gaffney said.

The row follows reports in July of a plot to block the Edinburgh South MP from claiming the chairmanship of the SPLP over his falling out with Jeremy Corbyn.

Murray, who was elected in 2010 and served as Scotland’s only Labour MP for two years, until June, is said to have been kept in place only after a group of peers threw their support behind him. Tempers in the SPLP have flared again after another fractious week in the contest between Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar to become the next Scottish Labour leader.

The latest source of tension is understood to be Murray’s claim that the leadership election is being “rigged” by Leonard’s union supporters.

In a letter to Roy leaked to a national newspaper, Murray called for the removal of deputy leader Alex Rowley from a verification panel scrutinising whether sign-ups have been made in line with party rules.

Rowley faced criticism after being secretly recorded voicing support for Leonard despite pledging to stay neutral.

Murray said that Scottish Labour was “in danger of undoing all the progress we have made in the last year because the defence of the leadership election process is, at best, clumsy and, at worst, being rigged for a particular process.”

Responding to the publication of Murray’s concerns, the Scottish Labour general secretary appealed for an end to leaks that were “bringing the Labour Party into disrepute”.

In an email to members of the Scottish Labour executive that was itself leaked, Roy said: “This briefing to the press is counter-productive and cannot go on. I would appeal to all of you. Please use whatever influence you have to deter this wilful damage to our party.”

He appeared to rebuke Murray for having written his letter at all, telling members of the SEC that there was no need for them to “act as intermediaries” for party members with concerns about the leadership contest.

Murray’s backers claim the incident at the SPLP is the latest attempt by Corbyn supporters to undermine him. At a meeting of the SEC in September to set the rules for the leadership contest, two Corbyn supporters on the body are understood to have questioned Murray’s right to sit on the executive.

The Westminster SPLP is guaranteed a place on the SEC, which has traditionally been taken by the chairman or a designated alternate.

One party source told Scotland on Sunday that Murray was being “pushed out” by his new MP colleagues, having been passed over for his former role as shadow Scottish Secretary.

“He went out of his way to help them when they arrived at Westminster,” the source said. “At one point the six of them were working out of his office. He’s been treated appallingly.”

Another senior Scottish Labour source said: “In 2010 Ian won his seat with the smallest majority in Scotland and has worked so hard he now has the largest.

“Anyone in the party working to undermine him is woefully out of touch with party members.”

When asked about the SPLP meeting this week, a Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We don’t comment on leaks.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “Scottish Labour are a total shambles.”