“The public are so out of touch with today’s politicians,” Jim Murphy


by Alex Porter

Last week it emerged that Jim Murphy, then Scottish Secretary, knew perfectly well that his government colleagues actively sought the transfer of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison whilst his Labour colleagues led a campaign of vilification against the SNP government for releasing the Libyan on compassionate grounds.

In Scotland’s political village it is no secret that Jim Murphy is well versed in the black arts of news management or spin.  Indeed, the speculation was that during his post as Scotland Secretary the department’s budget was largely assigned to attacking the SNP government.

When polticians’ jobs revolve around the manipulation of information in the public domain why should we be surprised to discover the rabbit-hole is jam packed with them?

The recent report on Megrahi’s release by Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell concluded with documents being released that exposed Labour’s vitriolic campaign against the SNP’s release of the dying Libyan as “organised hypocrisy”, according to Alex Salmond.

As the storm provoked by the revelations passed over Jim Murphy, Iain Gray, leader of Labour’s Holyrood group of MSPs, went to ground.  Yes the leaders of the once mighty Labour movement – descendants of Keir Hardie and James Maxton – hid.

You can’t keep a good man down though and today Murphy was online in an internet forum.  In a sign of how his time in office and approach to politics has shaped his attitude towards the electorate Jim Murphy wrote: “Finished supermarket surgery.  No-one mentioned AV [Alternative Vote], for or against.  The public are so out of touch with today’s politicians.”

That’s all the appreciation you get after years of public service.  It reminds one of the famous satire by the renowned poet, playwright and theatre director Bertold Brecht who sardonically observed of the government of the former East Germany (GDR):

…the people
Had thrown away the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Mr Murphy was correctly lambasted for his comments in the exchange when one Labour activist leapt to the defence of the Shadow Defense Secretary saying: “… these politicians rule the people at the end of the day.”

Upon spotting how delicate his predicament was our Jim put it all down to a misunderstanding telling his sparring partner: “… I think you need a better understanding of irony.”

Irony and democracy

In the offending piece of dialogue Mr Murphy was referring to the small matter of the AV or Alternative Vote referendum.  That’s the one that no-one mentioned in his surgery.  If what he said was ‘irony’ then he was saying that people are not interested in the AV referendum.  It is a welcome observation.  Can we now expect that he will oppose holding the £9.6m referendum?

Or Mr Murphy may well mean that it is politicians who are out of touch with what the electorate want.  Given his lecture on what irony means perhaps Mr Murphy will now take the opportunity to give a precise definition on the subject to which he professes a mastery.

The AV referendum is to be held on the same day as, and so detract from, the Holyrood election.  The reason for said plebiscite is to seek the endorsement of the electorate on the matter of replacing the existing Westminster voting system with another non-proportional system of voting.  None of the parties support the AV system and there is no expressed desire for it in the population at large, but a referendum we shall have nonetheless.

By contrast the Scottish population would very much like to have a referendum on the question of independence.  Whether they are for or against independence, a significant majority of Scots would like to have a say on whether they want a continued Union with England or not.   All the more so as the people of Scotland were never allowed to have a say on whether they wanted the Union with England in the first place.

The people are not getting the referendum they want, but they are getting a referendum that not even the parties want.  That’s British democracy for you.  Indeed, Mr Murphy’s party is not supporting a referendum on the new devolution settlement being ushered in via the Scotland Bill.  We are told there are lots of new powers for Scotland in the Bill, but how does Jim Murphy’s party know Scots want them?

Getting to the point then, can Jim Murphy explain exactly what the irony is here?  Is he saying that in actual fact the politicians are out of touch with the people?  If so does he agree that there should be no AV referendum?  Or is he actually saying that the people are out of touch with the politicians?

Which is it?