Jim Murphy announces resignation as Scottish Labour Party leader

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jim Murphy yesterday announced he intends to stand down as Scottish Labour Party leader next month, after narrowly surviving a no confidence vote. Murphy said he will present a list of suggested reforms to be made to the party, including changing the system for electing party leader to one member, one vote, upon offering his resignation at the next meeting of its national executive in June. Murphy also said he will not stand for the Scottish Parliament election in May 2016 and will "do something else".

Jim Murphy in 2009.
Image: Steve Punter.

At a meeting in the Scottish city Glasgow yesterday, the party's national executive held a vote of no confidence in Murphy; he won by 17 votes to 14. "Today I received more support in the executive vote than I did from members of the executive when I stood for election five months ago", Murphy said. Murphy became Scottish Labour leader in December 2014, following Johann Lamont's resignation from the role. Until Scottish Labour holds a fresh leadership election — its sixth in a span of eight years — Kezia Dugdale, currently the party's deputy leader, is to assume the role of acting leader for the time being. Murphy cited concerns about Scottish Labour being divided as a contributory factor to his decision. "Scotland needs a strong Labour party; Scotland needs a united Labour party", he said yesterday. "We have been the greatest force for change in our nation’s remarkable history. The Scottish Labour party will rise again. It will be under someone else’s leadership and I am confident about my party’s future."

The announcement came nine days after the party lost all but one of its 41 Scottish seats, including Murphy's East Renfrewshire constituency, to the Scottish National Party (SNP) in a UK general election, and eight days after Ed Miliband said he would stand down as leader of the UK Labour Party.

There was controversy regarding whether Murphy should retain his role following this performance. Labour Party supporters were reportedly asked to sign a letter supporting Murphy's leadership, to be presented at the executive meeting yesterday. Calls for Murphy to resign came from multiple quarters, including trade unions Unite and ASLEF, as well as Labour MSPs Alex Rowley and Elaine Smith. Earlier in the week, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said "the anti-Scottish card that was played by Lynton Crosby and the Conservatives" had caused them to win a majority in the general election, before going on to say: "I lay the blame for that very squarely at the feet of Scottish Labour. Not only have they lost Scotland but I think they've been responsible for making certain that the Conservatives were back in power in Westminster." However, trade unions USDAW and Community were amongst those supporting Murphy's continued leadership.

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Did Jim Murphy make the right decision?

In a speech, Murphy suggested he did he did not want the party to be divided as a result of his leadership. "It is clear that the small minority who didn’t accept my election as party leader by the majority five months ago also won’t accept the vote of the Executive today and will continue to divide the party if I remain", he said. Murphy singled out McCluskey for criticism, claiming to have "been at the centre of a campaign by the London leadership of the Unite union in blaming myself and the Scottish Labour party for the defeat of the UK Labour party in the general election. That is a grotesque insult to the Scottish Labour party." He went on to criticise what he called McCluskey's "destructive behaviour", commenting that: "Whether in Scotland, or in the contest to come across the UK, we cannot have our leaders selected or deselected by the grudges and grievances of one prominent man. 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."

Reacting to the news, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "I wish Jim Murphy all the very best for the future. Leadership is not easy and he deserves credit for standing up for what he believes in." Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said: "Credit to [Murphy]. He stepped up and energetically campaigned for his beliefs. I wish him the best for the future." Harriet Harman, the acting leader of the UK Labour Party, said Murphy had been a "hugely important figure" for them, adding: "Jim has given so much to the Labour Party over the last twenty years. He, I know reluctantly, took the responsibility for leading Scottish Labour at the most difficult election they have ever faced. He did so with incredible energy, purpose and dignity [...] He leaves with the best wishes and thanks of our movement."

Scottish Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie was more critical in his response, arguing the Greens should be the opposition of the Scottish Parliament instead. Harvie said Murphy's resignation was "almost inevitable, but even as he announced it he promised to further weaken Labour’s relationship with the wider labour movement. People haven’t left Labour because of the trade unions, but because the party itself long ago strayed from its principles. Without a clear sense of purpose, it has seemed to care only about holding office instead of creating new ideas for a better society. It’s clear that the Scottish Parliament needs an opposition that’s creative and challenging, but which can act constructively too."

Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson tweeted: "Jim Murphy announces a managed exit in order to help the party, which is to his credit. But leaves a tough gig for whoever comes next."

Wikinews asked Unite the Union to comment on the story and has yet to receive a response. However, Pat Rafferty, Unite's Scotland leader, earlier stated: "Jim has done the decent thing. Scottish Labour needs to recover, re-engage and reform. It can now begin that process."

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