As the TV hustings for the Scottish Labour leadership got underway last week, Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay have jobs on their hands competing with the charisma, confidence and experience of Jim Murphy. Will any of them even get a look-in? Simple answer: no, not really.
Sarah Boyack MSP was nominated by ten parliamentarians for the position of Scottish Labour leadership and Neil Findlay got eleven, including from Jim Shreidan and Katy Clark. But they couldn’t get anywhere near the 27 nominations for Jim Murphy, with his star-spangled list of supporters including the likes of Douglas Alexander, Alistair Darling and Jim McGovern.
The 53-year-old MSP Boyack has been in the Scottish Parliament since its conception; she served as environment minister but later lost her role in a reshuffle, presumably after failing to impress under Donald Dewar. She lost her seat in Edinburgh in 2011 and only remained in parliament because she was on the regional list for the Lothians. Not a strong start.
Findlay urged former prime minister Gordon Brown to take up the Scottish Labour leader role earlier this year, and it was only when he refused did the 45-year old MSP put his name down. Nobody likes a sloppy seconds, Neil.
The day his nomination became public saw Murphy endorsed by double the number of the two other candidates put together; a whopping 43 Scottish parliamentarians. This heavy endorsement could mean Murphy has already secured the required support he needs to win.
Today’s endorsement from former Labour leader Neil Kinnock can only boost his support.
The current polls have the former Scottish Secretary on 48%, Mr Findlay on 42%. Most media reports fail to even mention the third candidate Boyack.
However, the leaders of some of Scotland’s biggest unions, Unite, GMB and Unison, have thrown their weight behind Findlay, and he is expected to get the under-dog support from elsewhere such as students.
Flat on Marr
Despite this, a few weeks back Andrew Marr gave Findlay the chance to take on his rivals, and make a dent in splitting the Murphy vote. The result was a flat, dull, and uninspiring combination of one-line responses, and a blooper of an “I agree with Sturgeon…” moment over Trident. His only real policy was a line about the renationalisation of Scotland – a blast from the past old Labour policy to most, but one he claims is “mainstream” in Scotland. His website also features details on a review of all miners arrested in Scotland during strikes in the 1980s.
A modern voice, for the modern people of Scotland, evidently.
Former bricklayer Findlay wasn’t even tipped to win a seat in the 2011 Holyrood election, and some Labour MPs have expressed concern at the idea of him taking the lead. With little experience and a confusing narrative – it could show just how much trouble the party are in up in Scotland, and pose a huge problem for next year’s general election.
Tea-light of hope in the Highlands
Murphy on the other hand, is seen by some as Labour’s tea-light of hope in the darkness of the Scottish highlands. Upon announcing his leadership, Murphy reminded Scotland what a character he is. His regular jokes in television appearances don’t come across as fake; it feels like he actually means them, even if they are repeated across… Every. Single. Channel.
Murphy’s enthusiastic tour of 100 towns in 100 days (cut short by some scuffles) was an admirable attempt at getting back to the nitty-grittyiness of face-to-face conversation that is crucial during any election.
Let’s not forget Murphy’s experience in Westminster as Secretary of State for Scotland and in the Scottish Parliament. While critics may slam him for his time in the bubble, experience and friendships will matter when trying to pull in the promised powers for Scotland, among gaining support for other policies.
He knows how Westminster works, and despite this, is willing to put Scotland first. Since announcing he will stand, he has resigned from his shadow cabinet position to focus on his leadership race, and vowed to step down from Westminster as an MP if he is elected leader.
Oh, and he can talk! As much genuine excitement as is possible to be mustered for political hustings were omitted last Sunday, when the candidates went head to head on BBC 1’s Daily Politics. Murphy is a passionate, powerful speaker, and his roar spoke miles above Findlay’s squeaks. His bullishness and brash personality is exactly what is needed to maintain the momentum of engagement in Scottish politics following the referendum.
If Labour are going to have any chance of scraping back some of their share of the vote from the ever-expanding SNP, who are in an increasingly strong position in Scotland, they need the strength that only Murphy shows.
Though his column in last week’s Daily Record might come across as a bit flat, when he speaks in public his true feeling and commitment to this cause flows through.
If Labour wants any hope of regaining a momentum in Scotland beyond a “branch office” of the party, Murphy needs to succeed on December 13 and show a tough pro-Scotland agenda teamed with the experience and knowledge of his former Westminster circles.