Referendum ‘meteorite’ that threatens Scottish Labour dinosaurs

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Labour's proximity to the Tories within Better Together may have damned it forever

G.A.Ponsonby considers election outcome scenarios

Labour MSP James Kelly was asked a question by STV’s John Mackay this week:  Would Ed Miliband rule out becoming Prime Minister if Labour wasn’t the biggest party?

It is a highly relevant question given that Jim Murphy’s whole election strategy has been built on a single claim that only the largest party gets to form the government at Westminster.

Jim Murphy: where next ?
Jim Murphy: where next ?

Murphy’s claim is bogus of course.  It has been established beyond doubt that the party that can command a Commons’ majority first will be the government.

Even if Labour finishes with fewer MPs than the Conservatives, Ed Miliband could still find his way to Number 10 by doing a deal with one or more of the “smaller” parties.  The obvious party, and perhaps the only party which could guarantee the numbers if polls are to be believed, is the SNP.

Many people have been wondering: Would Labour, even if it was the smaller party, reject such a pact and stand idly by and let Cameron form a government? The answer is of course it wouldn’t.  Miliband, if he has any sense, will take the offer and emerge Prime Minister.

So why won’t Murphy just say so? Because as soon as he does he signals to Scottish voters that, even at Westminster, the SNP are now real players. Labour’s strategy over the decades has been to convince Scottish voters that the Westminster league is just too big for the SNP junior players. The message for generations has been simple – vote for us because we aren’t the Tories. It has served the party well … until now.

The independence referendum changed the game. People saw Labour and the Tories stand side-by-side for two years. They witnessed a Labour shadow chancellor back his Tory counterpart by threatening to sabotage the economy of an independent Scotland. The referendum campaign changed how a lot of Scots think.

Many Labour voters backed Yes in the referendum. A significant number of them appear to have moved to the main Yes party in the aftermath. These people will be voting SNP in May.  But it isn’t an anti-Tory sentiment that is driving them, it is a pro-Scotland one.

Murphy’s blunder is that he is fighting a pre-referendum election campaign on ground long shifted. His ‘Vote for Labour because we aren’t the Tories’ is no longer enough for many former Labour voters.

So what lies ahead for Murphy? I said some time ago that I believed he would stay on as leader of Labour in Scotland, no matter how many Labour MPs are returned in Scotland. Now though I’m not so sure.

Miliband: Policy vacuum
Miliband: Any port in a storm ?

Polls suggest that the Conservatives will emerge the largest party, but with no overall majority. They also suggest that the SNP will hold the balance of power. Miliband has to choose between letting Cameron in (and almost certainly being replaced as Labour leader)  or becoming Prime Minister through the side door. He’ll grab the SNP offer with both hands.

Jim Murphy, who has been telling Scots that only the largest party gets to form the government, will be made to look like a fool or a liar … or both. Credibility shot to pieces, he will be in no position to lead Labour into the 2016 Scottish election. He will step down as leader of Scottish Labour.

Here’s a final thought. If the Scottish electorate do indeed inflict the kind of defeat on Labour that the polls are indicating, they will have in-effect separated Scottish Labour from London.

This election may well be the catalyst that sees the emergence of a truly autonomous Labour party in Scotland. One that may well take a different side in the next independence referendum.

In that scenario, the referendum will have been the meteorite that ended the reign of the Scottish Labour dinosaur.