16 May 2015

Scottish Labour has suffered an extinction event


One of the strangest aspects of being a dinosaur as the end neared, and extinction loomed, must have been the realisation (too late) that this was not a temporary set-back. It really was all over. Having said that, the dinosaurs weren’t known for doing much deep thinking, what with their tiny brains. Which brings me to the travails of the dying Scottish Labour party, whose leader has just resigned after the Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats in the general election

Jim Murphy is capable of rational thought, which is why he has just quit. After a meeting of the Scottish Labour party executive (I have fond memories of covering those events back in the days when they counted for a lot, before there was a Scottish Parliament) Murphy made a long and thoughtful statement.

He launched an attack on Len McCluskey, the union leader and prominent dinosaur who has had such a negative impact on Labour.

“The Labour Party’s problem is not the link with trade unions, or even the relationship with Unite members – far from it. It is the destructive behaviour of one high profile trade unionist. The leader of the Scottish Labour Party doesn’t serve at the grace of Len McCluskey, and the next leader of the UK Labour Party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.”

Strong stuff. Murphy will compile a report on where Scottish Labour goes next and then leave.

The hopes of us who hoped that he stood a chance of at least limiting the damage from the Nationalist surge were in vain. But it became apparent during the election campaign that Murphy’s situation was hopeless; he was turning up ten years too late with the SNP established as one of the most formidable political operations in the world. Since the referendum it has more than quadrupled its membership and has such a grip on its elected representatives that they are banned – yes, banned – from criticising the leadership and party policy. Scary stuff.

The overwhelming strength of the SNP is one of the reasons that defeat for Scottish Labour should not be seen as a temporary set-back. It looks instead like an extinction event. Scottish Labour has one Westminster MP and has been robbed of its big hitters such as Murphy and Douglas Alexander. Its organisation is shot to hell and as trade union members and their union bosses move to back the SNP in huge numbers Labour’s traditional source of logistical support is going for good. What is left is a shell of a party.

Meanwhile, the SNP has the social democratic vote sewn-up and under Ruth Davidson the Tories are very well-placed to become the main force representing moderate Unionist opposition to the SNP. Scottish Labour’s dinosaurs have had it.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.