An election is on its way; the Conservatives want one, the SNP need one before the Alex Salmond trial, Parliament is bust so it’s happening. But it also looks like it could be with a new Labour candidate in Edinburgh South.
The Unite union has triggered the start of the process to deselect Labour MP Ian Murray and maybe the fact that a number of Conservatives were quick to praise him is part of it.
Unite’s problem with Ian is the very reason for his success – his avowedly centre-ground approach has enabled him to secure a solidly middle class, university seat built around Morningside, Bruntsfield and Marchmont which the Lib Dems have jealously coveted for years. No Marxist he.
I know plenty of out-and-out Tories who are comfortable voting for him to keep out the SNP and I’ve always found him excellent company with whom political disagreement is never accompanied by the snide bitterness of some other opponents I could name.
His high profile with the Foundation of Hearts helped him scrape victory at the 2010 election, just 300 ahead of ex-Lib Dem councillor Fred Mackintosh’s 14,899 – but helped by their Conservative alliance nationally and the local party’s disastrous oversight of the tram project, the Lib Dems slumped to a miserable 1,388 last time. Labour supporters will no doubt argue it is not deselection but reselection simply to confirm his continued candidacy, but as the lone Scottish Labour MP in 2015 who grew his majority from 2,500 to 15,000 in 2017, most voters will wonder why the question is even being asked.
His enthusiastic support for the EU in the most pro-EU seat in the UK is hardly the most cunning electoral ploy but his personal appeal is now such that, despite Scottish Labour’s meltdown, his return is all but guaranteed whenever the next election takes place.
Similarly, in a staunchly pro-UK seat, no wonder he slammed Labour’s willingness to hand the SNP a second independence referendum on a plate. It is the best illustration possible of the collective madness which is gripping his party that left-wingers can even contemplate throwing away a seat by dumping him for some Corbynite hardly anyone has heard of.
Game’s up for Labour
In that eventuality will he stand as an independent? Possibly, but that would mean building a campaign team and raising funds when a vote might only be weeks away. Jumping ship to the Lib Dems would provide existing infrastructure and pro-EU members who would no doubt welcome him with open arms.
Poll tracking through the What Scotland Thinks website supported by Prof John Curtice puts Labour on 19 per cent compared to 25 per cent across the UK, and when even a left-winger like Lothian MSP Neil Findlay decides to get out, it’s clear that the game is up.
He will be another of the swollen ranks of former Labour figures who just shake their heads at what their party has become – first-time voters at the next General Election weren’t born when Labour won 56 out of 72 Scottish seats in both the 1997 and 2001 General Elections – and if people who dedicated years of their lives to the party think that way, why should voters think differently?
We in the Scottish Conservatives don’t minimise the challenge we face, with the need to find a new Scottish leader, but we are still ahead of Labour and the Lib Dems and there are a million Scottish Leave voters to attract in an election which will inevitably be about Brexit.
Across the UK, getting Brexit sorted with a deal provides the strongest possible platform for Conservatives to build on the 35 per cent support the polls are recording.
It is all to play for, and Ian Murray knows what happens when the proprietor from hell sacks his best assets. Time for a new club, Ian.