He fought to the last, taking it all the way to a vote of confidence from Scottish Labour’s National Executive. And even though he won that, it was too close to be anything less than a pyrrhic victory.
Jim Murphy will depart his post in June. It seemed almost inevitable to many. A leader without a seat in any legislature? A leader whose own constituency voters had decided to cast him aside? Staying became harder by the day and certainly more divisive, and any party that remains divided after an election result, certainly one of this magnitude, runs the real risk of repeating history, very quickly.
Murphy resigned in true Blairite fashion, stating that he will submit a plan at the exact time of his official resignation in June to reform Scottish Labour – which in his resignation speech, he called one of the least reformed sections of the Labour movement. He also had a good hard swipe at the unions, and especially Unite leader Len McCluskey.
Never really his friends, union leaders in Scotland and especially Unite had been calling for Murphy’s head since the election defeat, blaming the whole debacle on Scottish Labour’s campaign. These were not the only voices calling for Murphy’s head; several MSPs who resigned from his Scottish shadow cabinet had stated that he must resign. And several recent ex-Scottish Labour MPs joined the fray early, especially Ian Davidson, who called for Murphy’s resignation a few hours after the polls closed on election night.
Two weeks ago I wrote about what Scottish Labour would have to do in the future, after the election polls began to say that the SNP could pick up all the Scottish seats. Whatever happened to polling across the rest of the UK, the ones looking at Scotland were proven right after the SNP gained 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats.
Ed Miliband quit the day after the vote, of course, taking what many saw as the honourable route. In Scotland though, it has been another story entirely. While Miliband presided over a UK-wide party that actually gained votes, Murphy presided over the almost total wipe-out of Scottish Labour at Westminster. He saw his support decline to 24.3%, while the SNP gained one out of every two votes cast in Scotland.
Furthermore, he was not the sole surviving Labour MP in Scotland. He did not manage to hold to his seat in Renfrewshire, but he tried, almost desperately it seems, to hold on to his position when to many it seemed untenable. I was asked on election night, as the “Jockalypse” unfolded, whether Murphy would throw himself on his sword. I said if he didn’t then there were plenty of people who would probably throw him in the general direction of it.
So it proved to be. Yet at the same time, he is doing it in a slightly different fashion. Unlike Labour at the UK level, which has a few years to sort things out, Scotland has a parliamentary election in less than 12 months, and Murphy is very aware of this.
He is not just quitting and letting the party take an introspective look at itself while conducting a leadership battle. He is calling for change, calling for one member one vote, and leaving Scottish Labour with a “legacy” document, a plan to change the party.
It must face up to the new reality, where the SNP strides before all, capturing the anti-austerity, progressive mantle – a mantle that Scottish Labour so desperately wants to regain as its own. Perhaps with a new leader it can try. And good luck to whoever that individual is, because as anyone who has witnessed the rise and rise of the SNP over the past few years can tell you, they are going to need it.
Murray Leith does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Authors: The Conversation