JIM Murphy yesterday signalled that a Scottish Labour party under his leadership would reject a shift to the left, saying the party should be for the “prosperous” as well as the poor.
The front-runner in the leadership race said he intended to create a party that would pitch for the centre ground, at a time when the SNP is moving leftwards.
Officially launching his bid to replace Johann Lamont, the East Renfrewshire MP said Scottish Labour should appeal to a broad church of supporters. Faced with an SNP led by the left-leaning Nicola Sturgeon and bolstered by an influx of radical members, Murphy appeared to pave the way for a realignment of the nation’s politics that would see Labour try to wrestle Middle Scotland from the Nationalists.
When asked how he intended to increase the popularity of a party that has been defeated by the SNP at two Scottish elections, Murphy replied: “I want a party that appeals to the poor and the prosperous.”
Speaking to supporters who included Better Together leader Alistair Darling and Glasgow Council leader Gordon Matheson, Murphy said he wanted to change Labour culture by ignoring the labels used to describe the political outlook of supporters.
“I don’t care what side – what traditional side of the Labour movement you are on – I don’t care if you are left-wing Labour, or right-wing Labour – New Labour or Old Labour. The only thing I care about is we are not a losing Labour,” Murphy said at his launch in Edinburgh.
Murphy apologised for Labour’s failure to listen to the Scottish voters after two Scottish election defeats.
Before he has the chance to take on the SNP, Murphy has first to deal with a left-wing challenge from his Labour colleague Neil Findlay, who has already begun to secure trade union support. Findlay yesterday secured the support of Unison, which joined Aslef in saying that it would back the Holyrood health spokesman in the contest against Murphy and the Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack.
The left-wing MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, Katy Clark, will officially announce that she is standing for the deputy leadership tomorrow. Yesterday she informed Scottish Labour officials of her intention to stand. The Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale will also stand for the deputy position.
Many on the Labour left will vote for Findlay and Clark in the contest, which will be determined by three electoral colleges made up of trade union votes, politicians’ votes and members’ votes.
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Murphy has already gained the support of prominent Labour figures. In addition to Darling and Matheson, the Labour MP Gemma Doyle and the MSPs John Pentland, Hamzala Malik were at the Murphy launch.
With Scottish Labour facing its deepest crisis since devolution and a recent poll suggesting it will be decimated in Scotland at the General Election, Murphy said he was determined that he would not tolerate interference from London when it came to running the party north of the Border.Lamont quit last month complaining that UK Labour treated its Scottish arm like a “branch office” of London. Murphy said that under his leadership there would be no repeat of the situation that saw Ian Price removed as Scottish Labour general secretary against Lamont’s will.
He also said it was his ambition to make Scottish Labour less beholden to London by making it entirely self-financing. Currently, Scottish Labour is reliant on a share of funds raised by the UK party.
“I want the Scottish Labour party to raise much more of its own money,” Murphy said.
Asked if Scottish Labour should raise all of its own money, Murphy replied: “If we could get to that point. That’s what I would like to do. That’s a huge challenge, but I’m determined to do it.”
Murphy called on the SNP to adopt a more modest approach in the aftermath of Yes Scotland’s defeat in the referendum.
“It was a two-horse race where the result wasn’t even close and yet the horse that came last has spent the last six weeks between repeated laps of honour and parading around the winners’ enclosure,” Murphy said.
“In the same way that I accept and want to learn from our last two Scottish election defeats so too must the SNP show a modesty when confronted by the will of more than two million Scots.”
On the subject of more powers for Holyrood, Murphy was reluctant to back calls for Labour to fall in line with the Tories and embrace more radical devolution of income tax than the limited proposals it had so far put forward. He said Labour’s original plans would not be re-written overnight.
Murphy did say, however, he wanted to see devolution of welfare that would give local authorities more powers over benefit – a move that would provide an incentive to create meaningful jobs for the unemployed.
Although Mr Murphy has emerged as the firm favourite to succeed Lamont, he will struggle to win union support.
Yesterday, Pat Rafferty, leader of the Unite union in Scotland, said Murphy needed to start “setting out what he stands for”.
Rafferty said: “This is an election about who can best deliver for working and community Scotland.
“We sincerely hope it will not be much longer before Jim Murphy tells us what policies he is promoting. Unite’s members want to know what he will do to reverse falling wages, attack poverty and defend our services. Unite’s representative members will soon decide who to nominate on behalf of our union. On the basis of this speech, it is extremely difficult for them to find much hope that Jim Murphy is offering the genuine, positive change in Scottish Labour they seek. We urge him to use the coming days and weeks to give Labour voters much more substance to go on.”
Meanwhile, the Unison Scotland Labour link chair, Gordon McKay, explained why his union would be backing Findlay.
McKay said: “Members have been hugely impressed with Neil Findlay since he became an MSP and in particular as shadow cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing. Neil understands that politics-as-usual isn’t good enough and we believe he offers a fresh approach with a real experience and understanding of the concerns of working people”.
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