McConnell’s comments prompt accusation of Labour leadership ‘debacle’

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by a Newsnet reporter

Former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell has broken the silence in the Labour party over the non-campaign for a replacement for Iain Gray as leader of the party’s Holyrood group.  Mr Gray announced shortly after the drubbing the party received at the May election that he would resign as leader “in the autumn”.  

It is now some 100 days since Iain Gray announced his intention to step down and Holyrood’s members will shortly return to full parliamentary business after the summer recess, yet no party figure has stepped forward and made an official announcement of their candidacy.  There is no clarity within the party about such basic mechanisms as how the vote will work, when it will be held and who will be eligible to stand.

Speaking to the Herald yesterday, Mr McConnell said: “We are in the ridiculous position where the rump of Liberals in the Parliament are better placed and positioned [than the Labour party] because of a new leader and we need to deal with this immediately.”

Unlike some party colleagues such as Labour’s other former First Minister Henry McLeish, Mr McConnell does not insist that the new leader must be a sitting Holyrood MP.  Mr McConnell was given a lifelong sinecure in the House of Lords by Gordon Brown in 2010.  Speaking to the Herald about the qualities he looked for in a new leader he said:  “I want a man or a woman to come forward with a vision for Scotland in the 21st century that will not just inspire the Labour Party, but will inspire the country, and I don’t really care where that person comes from as long as the elected members at Holyrood cannot be outvoted by the elected members in Westminster and as long as the person is committed to being in the next Scottish Parliament.”

Mr McConnell was concerned that the party was too inwardly focused, mirroring the concerns of others who have urged the party not to wait until the completion of the Murphy and Boyack Review of Labour’s Scottish structure before candidates identify themselves.  This review is due to be completed in the autumn and is subject to the approval of Ed Miliband.   The review was ordered by the party’s UK leadership in response to its disastrous showing in the May election.  The party had hoped success in this election would be a vital “stepping stone” to regaining power at Westminster.  The scale and comprehensive nature of Labour’s defeat took the party by surprise.  

Mr McConnell said: “It is time for the whole Scottish party to raise its horizons.  Endless debates about MPs versus MSPs, constitutional technicalities and internal party structures are not going to produce a vision for Scotland that reconnects Labour with the majority of Scots and with Scots in every part of the country”

Mr McConnell also voiced his concern that some members of the Labour party had failed to grasp the depth of the problems currently facing the party.  “We no longer have an elected constituency member of the Scottish Parliament north of a line between Cowdenbeath and Dumbarton.  This is really serious,” he said.

Commenting on Mr McConnell’s remarks, James Dornan the SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart said:

“This whole process is now completely farcical.

“Day after day, week after week we are seeing one senior Labour party member after another call for the party to head in a different direction.

“Some think that the leader should come from the Scottish Parliament, some think it should come from Westminster, some think the party should embrace full fiscal autonomy, some think they should defend the untenable status quo above all else.  Each one highlighting the division tearing Scottish Labour apart.

“Now Lord McConnell has given a clear vote of no confidence in Labour’s leadership team just days before Parliament returns.

“With the date of Iain Gray’s departure looming they are still no further ahead in selecting his replacement, despite it being over 100 days since his resignation.

“This continued debacle only emphasises the view that Labour aren’t competent enough to be in opposition, never mind government.”