Labour MP Jim Murphy has claimed that the recent election defeat suffered by the Scottish arm of the party was not caused by London control.
Mr Murphy is currently heading a review into Scottish Labour’s disastrous performance in May that saw the SNP win a clear majority and some senior Labour figures lose their seats.
The East Renfrewshire MP and former Secretary of State for Scotland was speaking on Radio Scotland when he was asked whether the idea of an autonomous Scottish Labour party was a possibility.
“It’s one of the issues people have made submissions on,” he said, adding: “ It’s clear that the Labour party has got to change in Scotland.”
When pressed if his review might recommend autonomy for Labour in Scotland Mr Murphy insisted that autonomy was not a problem and said:
“The Scottish Labour party has a huge degree of autonomy at the moment, but that’s not why we lost the election, there are many reasons why we lost the election earlier this year and we’re looking at all of them.”
The comments from the senior Labour figure will not go down well amongst some MPs in the party who are already conceding that an autonomous Scottish party is needed if they are to challenge the growing support of the SNP.
This week Labour MSP James Kelly described Labour as “fighting for survival” in Scotland. His Westminster colleague Tom Harris recently joined former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish by calling for a Scottish leader to lead all of the party in Scotland and not just the Holyrood group of MSPs.
In 2008 however Mr Harris argued against such a move saying: “Creating a new post of leader of the Scottish Labour Party would be so fraught with difficulties as to make it entirely impractical.”
“Under such an arrangement, Labour MPs at Westminster would owe allegiance not to the Prime Minister but to the Scottish leader, and would, presumably, be mandated to support policies on reserved matters that were developed, not on a UK basis, but entirely in Scotland.”
Mr Harris’ volte-face is indicative of a party in turmoil north of the border with rank and file members dwindling and activists in apparent disarray in some constituencies.
It isn’t just MSPs and MPs who are calling for Labour in Scotland to cut ties with London. Millionaire donor Brian Dempsey recently called on Scottish Labour to start drafting policies designed to benefit Scotland rather than ones designed to re-elect Ed Miliband.
Mr Dempsey called for the Scottish arm to break from the “coat-tails of Millbank towers … unchain itself from the anchor of London” and “set sail as an independent party”.
Mr Murphy claimed that the results of the review would be in depth and radical. His suggestion that a lack of autonomy had no bearing on the Scottish election defeat will be construed by many as a clear signal that full autonomy is not on the agenda.
Scottish Labour are currently struggling to find a leader to replace outgoing front man Iain Gray and potential candidates may fear they will have even less authority than before, and perhaps offers an explanation for the reluctance to step forward.
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