Len McCluskey warns Unite may switch support to SNP

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THE UK’s most powerful union chief has warned that it could start providing support to the SNP as the crisis englufing Scottish Labour descended into civil war.

Unite chief Len McCluskey accused the party of losing touch with its working class roots as he hit back at departing Labour leader Jim Murphy’s savage attack on his “destructive” influence.

Len McCluskey has threatened that his union, Unite, could take their funding from Labour to another political party. Picture: Getty Images

Len McCluskey has threatened that his union, Unite, could take their funding from Labour to another political party. Picture: Getty Images

The party’s last remaining Scottish MP has now appealed for an end to the “infighting” which has beset Labour since the election disaster which saw the SNP take 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs.

It came as a former senior Labour adviser in Scotland warned the party cannot now win next year’s Holyrood election.

Mr Murphy announced his resignation as Scottish leader at the weekend after narrowly surviving a no confidence vote at a meeting of the party’s executive in Glasgow, but took a parting shot at Mr McCluskey’s undue influence. And he pledged - before stepping down - to introduce measures to curb union power.

Mr McCluskey responded that Unite’s party affiliation could be reconsidered unless Labour can show itself to be the “voice of ordinary working people, that they are the voice of organised labour”.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can win in 2016

Paul Sinclair

“It is up to them. If they don’t, if they kind of inject more disillusionment in the party then the pressure will grow from our members to re-think. It is certainly already growing in Scotland.”

He added: “We have a rules conference in my union in July and there’s already a number of resolutions from Scotland seeking to release them from the rule that kind of limits us just to the Labour Party.”

Mr McCluskey said there was “huge support” for the SNP among his members.

“The majority of my members during the general election voted SNP,” he added.

“The real problem was that the Labour party couldn’t have a conversation with the Scottish working people and we’ve not had that since 2008 when we were losing seats in the east end of Glasgow.

“We did nothing about it. We lost in Holyrood in 2011, We pursued a referendum campaign that was ludicrous.

“We implored the Scottish Labour party to put a second question on the referendum ballot paper for devo max. If that had happened not only would Labour have held onto a significant number of seats in Scotland, we wouldn’t have gifted (Tory strategist) Lynton Crosby and the Tories the anti-Scottish card which they played and which in my opinion had a significant impact on the result.”

Mr Murphy is to bring forward a report at next month’s meeting of the Labour Scottish executive, where he will formally step down, calling for the party to adopt a one member, one vote system to elect the leader. This will limit the power of the unions who currently command a third of the party’s electoral college.

The former East Renfrewshire MP also denounced a campaign to oust him from his post as he announced his resignation on Saturday.

“Whether it’s in Scotland or the contest to come across the UK, we cannot have our leaders selected or deselected by the grudges and grievances of one prominent man,” he said.

“The leader of the Scottish Labour party does not serve at the grace of Len McCluskey and the next leader of the UK Labour party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.”

Scotland’s last remaining Labour MP Ian Murray hit out at Mr McCluskey yesterday and backed the changes being proposed by Mr Murphy to limit union power in the selection of the Scottish leader.

“I think there should be one member, one vote,” he said.

“We have that across the UK where the new UK Labour leader will be elected on one member, one vote. It gives the voice to the grass roots of the Labour party. It allows the people who are in our local communities, working hard for Labour, it gives them a much stronger voice.”

The Edinburgh South MP backed Mr Murphy’s criticism of the unite chief.

“For Len McCluskey to blame on individual in Scotland for a loss across the UK was both inappropriate and misjudged,” he said.

“These are deep rooted in problems in Scotland that have been going on for many years.”

Mr Murray said the broad Labour party needs to unite to “regain the trust of the Scottish people.”

He added: “We won’t do that while there’s infighting across the party - I urge people to come together and let’s work hard for the Scottish people.”

It came as Paul Sinclair, a former adviser to ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and ex-Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont warned the party must take a longer term approach to its revival north of the border beyond next year’s Holyrood election.

“We’re kidding ourselves, everyone in Scottish Labour is kidding ourselves, if we think we can win in 2016,” he said.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said he wasn’t surprised that Unite could be in line to support the SNP in Scotland

“Politics has changed significantly in Scotland,” he said.

“We’re in a very strong position and I have no doubt that the majority of trade unionists voted for the SNP in the recent election, just as many other groups in society, because the SNP has pledged to stand up for the Scotland’s interests, for progressive politics against the austerity agenda of all three UK parties.”

UK leadership frontrunner Mr Burnham has now said he is open to Scottish Labour being independent.

Asked at the weekend if it should “run its affairs entirely separate from the party in London”, Mr Burnham said: “There is a case for that and I will look at that.

“We’ve had an election that’s left the country more divided and fragmented, we’ve got a Prime Minister who has stoked the separatist cause in his own interest.

“It used to be the Tory and Unionist party but they’re now just playing to English nationalism. If anyone is concerned about the break-up of the UK they need a strong Labour Party going forward and I am the person who can speak to all parts of the UK.”

Mr Burnham added: “I’ve got huge respect for Jim, he’s given his all to the Labour Party, but in Scotland we do now need a clean break, we need a process of listening and learning and rebuilding and I believe in this contest I’m the person best placed to do that.”

It came as the man who wrote the party’s UK manifesto warned Labour is facing one of the greatest crises in its history. Jon Cruddas said whoever takes the helm as the new leader following Ed Miliband’s resignation in the wake of a shocking General Election defeat must be prepared for a rethink on what the party is all about.

Mr Cruddas, who was drafted in by Mr Miliband to conduct a policy review and oversee the 2015 manifesto, said the party’s election loss was “profound”.

The MP for Dagenham and Rainham said: “Arguably, it’s one of the great crises of the Labour Party’s history.

“I argued that the 2010 defeat was actually the worst defeat in Labour history since 1918, and the defeat of 10 days ago was much worse - so this is profound.”

He said the new leader must be someone who “owns” the May 7 defeat, and warned against “swerving around” it.

Mr Cruddas added that the task for a new leader will be huge, and they must be “prepared to go to the dark places and fundamentally rethink what the Labour Party is for, who it represents, what it’s all about”.

Mr Cruddas also called for the creation of an independent Labour party in England that seeks to contest the “very notion of modern English nationhood”.

He accepted that Labour had lost its identity, with candidates unclear on the party’s vision, and insisted “political character” was now more important than policy.