A new leader for Scottish Labour

One of the few certain things about the general elections that will take place in May 2015 is that Labour needs to change its strategy if it wishes to keep its voters and have a chance of stealing those of the Conservatives, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) or the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Shadow international development secretary Jim Murphy speaks during the Labour party's annual conference in Manchester, northern England September 22, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne PlunkettShadow international development secretary Jim Murphy speaks during the Labour party's annual conference in Manchester, northern England September 22, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

The new leader of the Scottish Labour party, Jim Murphy, promises he will be the new wind of change the party needs. Yet, the road will be difficult for Murphy and the new leader has a lot to do in very little time. Murphy has promised not to lose a single Westminster seat in the general election, but the Labour party is not doing well in the polls, with many Scots feeling that the Labour party has not done enough to fulfil the promises the government made after the negative results of the September referendum. Murphy’s position is a delicate one since he played a key role in the no campaign in the months before the referendum. In his acceptance speech Murphy has tried his best to soften both the no and yes voters. He talked in favour of more powers for Holyrood, especially for welfare, declaring his intention to cooperate more with the SNP on key social justice issues in order to make of Scotland “the fairest nation on the planet”. He confirmed Labour’s contentment with the findings of the Smith Commission, calling the package “strong”, “ambitious”, and “substantial”. Yet, many Scots have been disappointed with commission and supporting its findings risks to attract renewed accusation of poor commitment from the Labour side. He has insisted that he does not need to ask the UK party leader Ed Miliband for matters concerning Scotland, but making up for Miliband’s low popularity will be a tough task and convincing disaffected Labour supporters to put Miliband into government even a harder one. Importantly, his victory was only partially supported by the trade unions, which suggests an uphill struggle to win the left-wing support.

However, one of the strongest points made by Murphy so far is that he will not pursue a politics of differentiation: he will speak to left-wing voters and right-wing ones equally. Murphy is calling on the Scottish people to put aside “less important” differences and to fight for Scotland’s common good. In particular, he said that any vote the SNP would take from Labour would have the effect of making another Conservative government more likely. Labour and SNP are battling to be the best antidote to David Cameron but Murphy wants to remind voters that the fight is not between Labour and SNP only. Yet, Murphy’s attempt to put aside differences might be really an attempt to mask the fact that some of the policies proposed, in particular the ones related to income taxation, are not really that different than the ones brought forward by Sturgeon’s SNP. Murphy is determined to reach out of the Labour party to involve experts in order to build a talent-based team. During the campaign Murphy said that the Labour party’s problem was not its lack of ideals but a failure to convey any real sense of its relevance to people’s lives. While there is some truth to this, Murphy should remember that many in Scotland accuse Labourites of not living up to their ideals and thus some reflection on the ideals and identity of the party is necessary for Labour to win back its credibility.

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