New war of words in Scottish Labour over 2017 election strategy

A war of words has broken out within Scottish Labour after concerns were raised about the party’s 2017 general election campaign strategy.
Ian Murray has said called for an end to factionalism in the Labour Party.Ian Murray has said called for an end to factionalism in the Labour Party.
Ian Murray has said called for an end to factionalism in the Labour Party.

The party’s new shadow Scottish Secretary, Ian Murray, has made a plea for unity in the wake of a leaked report which revealed that some senior officials within the UK party had actively campaigned to diminish the party’s success in the 2017 General Election, with the aim of ousting Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

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However one of Mr Corbyn’s leading Scottish allies – Lothians MSP Neil Findlay – has said an inquiry into how Scottish Labour ran its 2017 campaign should also be held to rule out similar actions by party staff in Scotland.

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Claims have also been made that Mr Murray benefitted from the majority of party resources because of his friendship with then Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale.

Scottish Labour gained six new MPs at the election, taking its number to seven, and dramatically reduced SNP majorities in other seats. However in last year’s December election those same six seats were lost, leaving Mr Murray the sole Labour MP in Scotland again.

Today Mr Murray made a plea for unity warning that those loyal to Mr Corbyn would be “20,000 leagues under the sea” if they continued to cling to the former leader’s strategies.

He said: “If we ignore (the public) and say that we won the argument but lost the election and the voters are wrong, then we'll just end up in perpetual decline. We'll end up as a diminishing party of opposition rather than a credible alternative government.

“If they've tied themselves to Jeremy Corbyn's mast then they're 20,000 leagues under the sea at the moment because the ship has gone down. It's time to move on.”

He added: “I just plead with everyone, the membership, the trade unions and affiliates... anyone who has any care for the Labour Party - look at how you felt on December 13.

“How do you feel that the Tories have got an 80-seat majority and are all powerful? They're going to change the rules, change the boundaries, change the system, they're going to stack it against the Labour and trade union movement.

“That is what has come out of this particular time period in Labour's recent history. If they think that this fight still has to be fought, then they're essentially sticking two fingers up to the public.”

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The only Labour MP in Scotland, Mr Murray faced a battle with the party's left wing in the run up to last year's election when an attempt to unseat him from his Edinburgh South constituency failed.

He was also criticised by Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite and a key Corbyn ally, over his treatment of the former leader. Following the 2015 election, Mr Murray – at the time the only Labour MP in Scotland – quit as shadow Scottish secretary over disagreements with Mr Corbyn. He then accepted a job as the Scottish Labour Westminster spokesman which he was offered by former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. After six new MPs were elected in 2017, he stepped back from the role.

However, despite Labour’s successes that year, critics have argued the party would have won more seats if party resources had been directed differently.

Now Neil Findlay, who resigned as Scottish Labour’s campaign lead after a disastrous 2019 European election result, is calling for an inquiry into the 2017 election strategy in the wake of the leaked UK party dossier. New leader Sir Keir Starmer has said an independent investigation into the leaking of the internal report will be launched.

Mr Findlay said: “Like thousands of Labour members up and down the country I’m still reeling from the content of this leaked report.

“We have seen party bureaucrats operating a parallel organisation, deliberately undermining not just the elected leader, and candidates that don’t fit with their view of the world, but also the hundreds of thousands of party activists who have campaigned relentlessly over the last five years.

“I am not casting any aspersions on individual employees of the Scottish Labour party but what I am asking for is for a full and independent inquiry to be conducted to confirm that indeed none of this did happen in Scotland.”

Others involved in the 2017 general election campaign strategy have denied there were any attempts to undermine the campaign.

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Former Scottish General Secretary Brian Roy denounced any suggestions of wrongdoing on Twitter, saying “in-depth polling and analysis, combined with the actual results in May's local elections”, had determined the strategy for the general election and where the small resource available should be spent.

He added: “We mounted an offensive campaign, targeting six seats, and winning five of them, with every member of staff working day and night to return a Labour Government ...

“To suggest or infer there is any reason to investigate current and previous Scottish staff about their intentions or commitment, does them a grave disservice. We should be better than this. If the allegations are solely about me personally, then have the courage to say so.”