In the week or so preceding the election of Jim Murphy MP as Scottish Labour’s new leader, the Labour Party have been suffering from what appears to be a crisis of identity. In fact, even Murphy’s selection as leader is testimony to such an argument.
The Labour Party, even as far back as the 1990s, always seem to be just one step behind. We have seen the demise of manual labour industries, a fall in poverty, and the power of the trade unions being slowly squeezed out.
In 1997, New Labour was born, and we saw the old ideas of previous leaders such as Michael Foot being replaced with a less Left politics, and the lines between Conservatives and Labour becoming ever more blurred.
Indeed, Ed Miliband’s latest proposals on immigration appear far from his initial attitude towards immigration. It is now a focus on control, limitation, and preventing exploitation and diminished conditions from British workers. Even the slogan that was practically plastered on to a Union Jack during the referendum, “One Nation Labour”, seems almost classic-Conservative in nature.
Just last week, Ed Miliband set out Labour’s economic plans for the next parliament, conceding he would have to make “sensible” cuts, and that they would balance the current deficit “as soon as possible” (which gives them some leeway). A statement such as the latter does not install confidence in people who are still sceptical of Labour’s economic credibility.
Yet we are seeing this reflected once again in Scottish Labour. Scotland, a place where Labour traditionally thrive and have done for many years, is now turning its back on the party, opting for a more aspirational, exciting, and gutsy SNP.
Bizarrely, despite appearing to want to differentiate themselves between the SNP and their policies, Jim Murphy has so far failed to do so. Eradication of poverty, opposition to tuition fees (which he previously backed for a long period of time), and introducing a 50p tax for the wealthiest in Scotland are all SNP policies.
When quizzed on this on Scotland Tonight (Mon 16th Dec) he claimed he had “no idea what the SNP policies are”. If he doesn’t know what his opposition’s policies are, then what kind of leader is he? How can he fight them in Holyrood if he has no idea what their policies are?
One of the fundamental issues facing Scottish Labour is the issue of the constitution. Professor John Curtice has already stated that how Scotland votes next May will ultimately come down to where the parties stand on the constitutional reform, adding that those who voted in “yes” in the indyref are almost certain to vote for the SNP in the General Election.
Labour will not be able to shake off the black spot that the SNP have on them: they got into bed with the Tories. It has always been said the the Conservatives are like a poison in Scotland, and it appears that as they were walking side-by-side during the referendum some of it got passed on to Labour.
Now, after standing on crates of Irn-Bru to convince people he was Scottish enough and still vote “no”, Jim Murphy says he will make his party more patriotic for Scotland, free it from the constraints of its UK sister, and concentrate on improving the lives of those in Scotland.
The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, to those who were educated through the independence referendum (and perhaps even voted for independence) will have a moment of déjà vu to what the SNP were saying throughout the entirety of the campaign.
Secondly, some are very sceptical of Jim Murphy’s motives. With his career being very much based in Westminster, and the argument that he is only taking the Scottish Labour leadership due to a meltdown at HQ, there are some who would question his ambitions. Why does he want the job? What does he want out of it? Where is he going to go later?
The Labour Party are at a crossroads in their history. They cannot go back without looking archaic and being attacked as too socialist; cannot go forward without being seen as trying to be like the Tories or the SNP. Where they do go will be interesting to watch, but for now it appears that the party both north and south of the border does not know what it stands for anymore.