Leaders: Labour must axe dead wood

Jim Murphy arrives at the press conference with his deputy Kezia Dugdale. Picture: SWNS
Jim Murphy arrives at the press conference with his deputy Kezia Dugdale. Picture: SWNS
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Murphy’s last act should be to scrap the protection of second rate candidates

SCOTTISH Labour leader Jim Murphy remains in his post but his defeat of an attempt to oust him means merely that the inevitable is delayed. Within minutes of surviving a confidence vote yesterday, Murphy said that he would resign a month from now, leaving his deputy, Kezia Dugdale, as acting leader.

‘These are desperate times for Labour and the measures will have to be commensurate’

Murphy made the right decision yesterday. ­Labour’s Scottish executive committee backed him by 17 votes to 14 which was hardly a ­resounding endorsement and the division it ­exposed would have endured. If Labour is to ­recover in Scotland, it must be united.

Murphy’s recognition of this – of the fact that almost half of the party’s ruling body wanted him out – informed his decision, and it is to his credit that he did not attempt to cling on.

But although he may appear a lame duck leader, Murphy says he will do one last thing for the party he represented at Westminster from 1997 until this month, when the voters of East Renfrewshire replaced him with the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald. Yesterday, Murphy said that he would prepare a report outlining a plan for Scottish Labour’s future.

That report will, wisely, call for a one-member-one-vote system to elect his successor. The force to remove Murphy came from unions, several of which have been agitating for him to go since the party’s general election defeat.

Those same unions put Ed Miliband in charge of Labour at a UK level and the consequences for the party were clear for all to see.

Just as the unions’ power to impose a British Labour leader has been removed, so it must be when it comes to selecting the head of the party north of the Border.

Scottish Labour faces a humiliating defeat next year; the way things are now going, 2011’s drubbing may be looked back upon by members with fondness. And if a worse defeat is to come, the party faces the prospect of being represented at Holyrood by a z-list cast of no-hopers and also-rans.

Two years ago, Scottish Labour made the utterly baffling decision to protect the list rankings of MSPs who had been elected to the Scottish Parliament by the second, proportional-representation vote in 2011. Most of those who lost their seats in that SNP landslide had been constituency MSPs and, by and large, of a finer calibre.

So, while he still has the chance, Murphy must act to ensure that his party fields a more impressive slate of candidates next year. This will be a messy business. Some of those who won election via one of the eight regional lists would struggle to find a low-ranking office job in the real world, never mind a position that attracted a £60,000 salary.

Those whose list positions are currently protected can be expected to fight tooth and nail to maintain their privileged status. If, however, Labour is to begin to appear credible again, then this situation cannot stand.

Murphy must act now to scrap the protection of second rate candidates and encourage others to apply for those places, and he could go even further by calling for the re-opening of the selection processes in constituencies. These are desperate times for Scottish Labour and the measures will have to be commensurate.

This may seem like a matter of interest only to the Labour Party and its remaining supporters, but the SNP’s soaring popularity means that those voters in favour of the Union have an interest. Whether a unionist MSP represents Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, he or she must be capable of taking on a first-class political machine which persuaded half those who voted this month to back it.

Whoever succeeds Murphy faces a massive challenge to resurrect the party’s fortunes ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections. The reforms proposed by the outgoing leader would represent a strong start.

Kirk has reached the right decision

THE decision of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to allow individual congregations to ordain ministers who are in same-sex civil partnerships is the correct one.

We understand that for many people of faith this is a particularly difficult matter and are pleased that – after much thought – members voted in favour of this important step.

The matter of the ordination of ministers in such relationships is sensitive to many Kirk members and so it is unsurprising that debate might seem to have dragged. But a necessarily long road has been travelled and the destination is as we hoped.

Churches across the Christian faith face substantial challenges in remaining relevant to modern society. Where once Sunday worship was routine for the majority, now congregations have fallen and continue to do so.

There are good pragmatic reasons for the Kirk to have taken the view it has. But there is more to this than mere self-preservation. While pews may not fill as they once did, the Church of Scotland has a well-earned role in our national discourse. It has influence and must use it wisely.

The debate has caused division within the Church, which must be a source of sadness for many. But the decision had to be made.

It is rarely possible to take all in the same direction on any matter and we hope that, in the case of the Church of Scotland, those who opposed this measure will now come together with those who supported it. The number of ministers who have left the church over the issue of the ordination of ministers in same sex marriages – 21 out of 806 – is small and suggests that those who remain can soon be reconciled.

The former moderator, Reverend David Arnott, was correct when he said this week that “we’re living in fast times and civil legislation is working faster than the church”. This is a remark the General Assembly should heed when the issue of allowing the ordination of those in same-sex marriages comes up on Thursday. It would be a dreadful pity if the Kirk was to be dragged into further, glacially-slow debate when it could be turning its focus to issues – such as foodbanks, mental health provision, and international aid – that matter to so many and on which the Church can have a powerful voice.