Jim Murphy to rewrite Scottish Labour rulebook

Scottish Labour's new leader Jim Murphy goes for a run next to the River Clyde yesterday. Picture: PA
Scottish Labour's new leader Jim Murphy goes for a run next to the River Clyde yesterday. Picture: PA
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JIM Murphy will today set out the “biggest change in Scottish Labour’s history” with a radical plan to rewrite its constitution in a flagship speech promising a rebirth of the party.

The new Scottish Labour leader will announce a fresh rewriting of Clause Four – the party’s statement of its aims and values – to “set in stone the total devolution of policy-making” from Westminster to Holyrood.

The move evokes Tony’s Blair’s controversial rewriting of the clause nearly 20 years ago, which scrapped the party’s commitment to public ownership and backed the market economy, and was seen as the launch of “New Labour” by the former prime minister.

In a rallying call just 48 hours after being elected to lead the party, Mr Murphy will tell supporters: “This will represent the refounding and rebirth of our Scottish Labour Party.”

The East Renfrewshire MP will say the party “represents Scotland first” in the most significant attempt yet by a Scottish Labour leader to wrest full autonomy of the party’s affairs from the Westminster leadership.

His predecessor Johann Lamont accused the UK leadership of the party of treating Scottish Labour like a “branch office” in her resignation letter less than two months ago.

Mr Murphy will tell supporters in Glasgow today: “The change we need goes deeper than the leadership style of a new team.

“If this is to be a genuinely fresh start for our party, we need to make more fundamental change.

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“That is why I can announce that I will ask Scottish Labour’s conference in March to agree a new Clause Four for our Scottish constitution.

“A new statement of purpose for a new generation in the Scottish Labour Party – it’s the biggest change in Scottish Labour’s history. Tony Blair rewrote Clause Four of UK Labour to bring us closer to the centre of politics. I want to rewrite ‘Clause Four’ of Scottish Labour to bring us closer to the centre of Scottish life.”

The existing Clause Four, which appears on each Labour membership card, states that “the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party” and commits the party to policies ensuring that “wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few”.

Mr Murphy – who played a frontline role in the No campaign and was pelted with eggs by Yes supporters – is understood to have been angered by suggestions during the referendum campaign that Scottish Labour is less patriotic than the SNP.

The Labour leader will tell Labour supporters in Glasgow today that a set of five principles for the new Clause Four will commit Labour to being a “democratic socialist party and a patriotic party”, a party that backs the “national interest of Scotland”, that puts “the needs of Scotland first”, backs a “powerful Scottish Parliament” and supports a more “equal and fairer society”.

Scottish Labour members will be asked to endorse the new set of aims and values at a special conference in Glasgow in March.

At a similar summit in 1995, Mr Blair persuaded the party to ditch the old Clause Four, which stated a commitment to a “common ownership of the means of production”.

Mr Murphy won more than 55 per cent of the vote in Scottish Labour’s leadership election, defeating rivals Neil Findlay, the shadow health secretary, and former transport minister Sarah Boyack.

However, the Labour leader will today warn the party that it will have to embrace far-reaching changes if it is to defeat the SNP, which is on course to make major gains over Labour.

The latest YouGov poll showed some 47 per cent of people in Scotland intend to vote SNP at the general election, against 27 per cent who will vote Labour – which would see the party’s Scottish MPs reduced from 41 to just seven.

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Mr Murphy will use his speech to evoke the radical spirit of Robert Burns, the “economic vision” of social reformer Robert Owen’s New Lanark, as well as the battle against the Highland Clearances, in a call to Labour supporters to reclaim the mantle of radical politics from the Nationalists.

He will say: “We will make it clear that we are both a democratic socialist party and a patriotic party.

“We are a socialist party, yes, but we recognise that our political faith grew out of something deeper which is ingrained in our Scottish character.

“It was there before our party in the ethics of Burns’ poetry, the economic vision of New Lanark, the actions of the Highlanders who took on brutal landlords.

“A belief that we stand together, look after those who need our help, and make sure that everyone gets a fair shout.

“While we do not give up on our belief in active solidarity with people across the United Kingdom and around the world, we will make it clear that this is complementary to, and not in conflict with, the national interest of Scotland.

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“We will declare ourselves a party that represents Scotland first, and where, as Scots, we work with others to achieve the potential of all. We will set in stone the total devolution of policy-making in devolved areas. Policy will be made in Scotland, for Scotland, by our Scottish party, putting the needs of Scotland first.”

Mr Murphy yesterday said he wanted to put “yah-boo politics aside” and co-operate with the SNP on key issues, such as pensions. He said that he would write to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling for the two parties to work together more.

He added that there is “lots that we can work together on”, signalling that under his leadership, Labour would take a less antagonistic approach to the SNP at Holyrood over some policy areas.

He said his leadership of Scottish Labour would not be about “seeking differences” with the SNP and suggested the two parties could work together to challenge the Conservative-led government at Westminster.

Mr Murphy, who was comfortably elected as leader, said he wanted to give jobs to Mr Findlay and Ms Boyack in a reshuffle he is planning of Scottish ­Labour’s frontbench this week.

SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said Labour was heading for major losses in next year’s general election under Mr Murphy’s leadership.

He said: “Jim Murphy’s claim to be taking control of Labour in Scotland is a familiar one – Johann Lamont said exactly the same thing when she was in charge, before ultimately quitting in response to her party bosses at Westminster undermining her decisions.

“Actions speak louder than words and it will take far more than a speech for Labour in Scotland to shake off its self imposed ‘branch office’ tag.”