Unions join call for Jim Murphy to quit leadership

Jim Murphy faces fire from all sides after election disaster. Picture: John Devlin.
Jim Murphy faces fire from all sides after election disaster. Picture: John Devlin.
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JIM Murphy is facing growing pressure to quit as Scottish Labour leader after one of the party’s main trade union affiliates said it would be “unprecedented” for him to remain in post following last week’s disastrous election result.

Public sector union Unison confirmed yesterday it would back moves to oust Mr Murphy if, as expected, he faces a vote of no confidence this week, as a second MSP quit Scottish Labour leader’s frontbench team at 
Holyrood.

Alex Rowley, a key ally of former prime minister Gordon Brown, stepped down as Labour’s local government spokesman at Holyrood and said that Mr Murphy’s refusal to resign was a “mistake” that would harm the party’s chances at the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.

Mr Murphy has also been urged to quit by unions Unite and Aslef, while former Labour MP Katy Clark, who lost her seat in the SNP surge, has called on him to consider his position.

Mr Rowley said Mr Murphy’s continued presence as Scottish Labour leader was an “unhelpful distraction” after the loss of his Westminster seat in the rout by the SNP, meaning he is no longer an elected parliamentarian.

He said the party would not become “strong” and “relevant” under Mr Murphy’s leadership after Labour lost 40 of its 41 seats in Scotland last week.

Mr Rowley, in a letter to Mr Murphy, said the party now needed a “fundamental change in direction and strategy” and told him that he would not “sign up to your leadership as one of your shadow team”.

The intervention from Mr Rowley, who served as an election agent for Mr Brown, puts more pressure on Mr Murphy, who is expected to face a vote of no confidence at a meeting of the party’s ruling body on Saturday. Mr Rowley called on Mr Murphy to quit at a meeting of Labour MSPs earlier this week.

In the letter, he said: “I said yesterday at the meeting of Labour MSPs that I thought your speech on Friday stating that you would stay on and lead Labour into the 2016 election was a mistake, and that it would also be a mistake for the team you put in place, including your chief of staff, to remain in post.

“I sincerely hold the view that you continuing as leader whilst not in the Scottish Parliament, and not in an elected position holding a democratic mandate, means you will become an unhelpful distraction from the real issues that Scottish Labour must focus on.”

Mr Rowley’s resignation came after Neil Findlay – who stood against Mr Murphy for the post of Scottish leader – quit his post as fair work, skills and training spokesman on Saturday.

Mr Findlay said the general election has been a “disaster” for Scottish Labour, which he said should now become independent from the party at UK level.

Meanwhile, Unison said it would not actively pursue a vote of no confidence in Mr Murphy, but would not oppose such a move on Saturday.

The union’s statement said: “The scale of Scottish Labour’s defeat in the general election last Thursday indicates the need for a radical change in approach. The problems of Scottish Labour long pre-date this election and the current leadership.

“It is unprecedented for a party leader not to stand down after such a defeat, particularly when he loses his own seat.

“We do not believe it is Unison’s place to initiate a change in leadership. However, if there is a wider movement proposing change, Unison Labour would not oppose it.”

Labour MSP Elaine Smith, who is Holyrood’s deputy presiding officer, also called for Mr Murphy to step down.

She said: “I am applauding Neil [Findlay] and Alex [Rowley] for saying they will play a full part in the debate Scottish Labour needs to have. They are putting loyalty to the Labour Party ahead of personal career or position and I think Jim Murphy should do likewise and step down as leader.”

Former Labour MP Ms Clark called on Mr Murphy to consider his position and said the party must build a “broad socialist movement” to take on the Conservative government.

Ms Clark, who represented North Ayrshire and Arran until last week, urged Labour to “turn its back” on former leader Tony Blair and New Labour in a speech to the annual conference of the train drivers’ union Aslef.

Asked by a delegate about Aslef’s call on Mr Murphy to stand down, she said he should “consider his position”.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “The only way to rebuild Scottish Labour and regain the trust of the people of Scotland is for everybody in our movement to work together. As the old trade union saying goes, unity is strength.”

And Mr Murphy is expected to face another call to quit as Scottish Labour leader with a postal workers’ union leader saying he should step down after the party’s disastrous election defeat.

John Brown, regional secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Scotland, said the union was likely to follow others such as Unite and Unison in calling for Mr Murphy to resign.

Mr Murphy is expected to face a vote of no confidence at Scottish Labour’s ruling body on Saturday, after the party lost 40 of its 41 seats north of the border.

Mr Brown said that the CWU had yet to agree a formal position, but stated that it was likely to call for the resignation of Mr Murphy, who lost his East Renfrewshire seat in last week’s election.

He said: “On a personal basis I think he should go.

“We’re having a conference call of our representatives to decide on a position, but on the soundings from our representatives the view seems to be that Jim should do the right thing and step down.

“I strongly suspect that the CWU position will be in line with that of Unison and Unite.”

Meanwhile, former First Minister Henry McLeish said he was “neutral” on the issue of whether Mr Murphy should quite, but said the party had “learnt nothing” from its defeats in Scotland and had to embrace urgent reform.