By Angela Haggerty
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP has slammed Labour for failing to tackle the “real problems” facing Scotland amid the party’s “civil war” as the fallout from the Falkirk candidacy fiasco continues.
The comments came after Ed Miliband set out plans for a reform of Labour’s relationship with the trade unions in the aftermath of allegations that the Unite union – the party’s biggest donor – tried to rig the selection of a parliamentary election candidate in Falkirk.
Labour intervened in the selection process last month after an internal inquiry found “sufficient evidence” that a sudden increase in Unite union members in the constituency was suspicious. The party introduced special measures, including a ban on any candidates standing who had joined the local constituency party after the date outgoing MP Eric Joyce announced he would not stand for re-election in 2015. The MP was convicted for assaulting four people in a Commons bar room brawl last year.
“Labour’s civil war is taking up so much of their time and energy that they are failing to address the real problems facing Scotland caused by Westminster – the Bedroom Tax, a flatlining UK economy, and the threatened privatisation of the Royal Mail,” said Mr Robertson. “The people of Falkirk and Scotland deserve better than this – Labour are too busy fighting each other instead of fighting for Scotland.
“Ed Miliband’s speech is a desperate attempt to show he is doing something – anything – to clean up the mess that started with the allegations in Falkirk, but everybody knows that Falkirk is just the tip of the iceberg. This really amounts to Ed Miliband’s wish list and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes.”
On top of criticism of the party, Mr Robertson hit out at Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont who has yet to issue a public statement
“Today also continues the deafening silence about Falkirk from Johann Lamont, who is supposed to be leader of the whole Scottish Labour party – including their Westminster MPs – and yet she has hidden behind the real Labour bosses in London.”
Yesterday Ms Lamont’s silence continued with Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran emerging to speak on behalf of the party in Scotland.
However, speaking to Radio Scotland the Labour MP was unconvincing as she tried to claim that the Scottish Labour leader had been involved in the decision making process that preceded Ed Miliband’s speech and that she was “fully content” with his proposals.
Pressed on reports Ms Lamont had said she would “look forward to” and “reflect on” the new proposals, Ms Curran said: “Johann, as I interpret [it] said let’s look at the details of this; let’s look at how this can be applied in Scotland, we will work together to take this forward.”
Mr Miliband proposed in his speech that the tradition of the Unite Union automatically making affiliation fee payments to Labour on behalf of members be scrapped at an estimated cost of between £5-8m to the party, with an opt-in system introduced instead.
However, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey – who has accused Labour of conducting a smear campaign – insisted the fee would “stay as it is” and the reforms are likely to face major opposition from Labour party members, although Mr McCluskey also signalled a drop in contributions from Unite saying the changes “might” mean less money coming from the union.
Describing events in Falkirk as the “death throes” of old politics, Mr Miliband said the incident had become a symbol of what was wrong with politics, adding that there was no place in the party for bad practice.
The situation has rapidly worsened for Labour since the allegations emerged, with MP Tom Watson resigning from his shadow cabinet role as general election co-ordinator last week. Unite’s favoured nomination for the parliamentary candidacy was Karie Murphy, who has worked for Mr Watson.
Following the speech, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union Billy Hayes vowed to fight the Labour party leader’s plans, telling the BBC’s Radio 4 that “nothing excited the political class more than an attack on the trade union movement”.
Mr Miliband pledged wider reforms during the speech, including calls for all-party talks on donations caps to restart and consultation on the amount of money MPs can earn from outside interests, which the SNP’s Mr Robertson said was a “major embarrassment” to Labour’s Alasdair Darling, who has declared outside earnings of £263,000.