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Scottish Labour Headed For Electoral Wipeout In May - Is Anybody Surprised?

10/03/2015 17:56 GMT | Updated 10/05/2015 10:59 BST

Jim Murphy is leading the Scottish Labour Party to an historic electoral pasting in the upcoming general election in May. Poll after poll in the wake of last September's independence referendum leaves no doubt that the party that was once so dominant in Scotland it used to weigh its votes rather than count them, has finally and irrevocably been deserted by its core and natural constituency, people who feel that Labour abandoned them long before now.

Since winning the leadership election upon the resignation of the previous incumbent, Johann Lamont, in October 2014, Mr Murphy has lurched from one political stunt to another, demonstrating a talent for form over content in having himself pictured out jogging in a Scotland football shirt, adding his voice to a campaign to overturn the ban on alcohol at Scottish football grounds, and drafting a new Clause IV with the objective not of re-establishing public ownership as the sine qua non of Labour's challenge to the unfettered power of the market, but to cement Scottish Labour's credentials as a Scotland-first party.

This is a politician who came to prominence supping at Tony Blair's table and who continues to embody Blairism long after both its author and his creed have been completely discredited. Being either pro-market, pro-business, pro-Trident, and pro-war would be enough to guarantee a political leader opprobrium in Scotland after the disaster of Iraq in 2003 followed by the disaster of the economic crisis in 2007/08. To be all four makes you about as popular as whooping cough. Jim Murphy is all four.

Making his and Scottish Labour's position all the more difficult is an SNP which, under its new leader, Nicola Sturgeon, appears an unstoppable force. The new SNP leader's decision to abandon her predecessor's economic flagship policy of reducing corporation tax - recognising that its main effect would be to enter working people into a race to the bottom - allied to to her call for an alternative to austerity and the savage cuts to public spending that have battered the low paid, the poor, and some of the most vulnerable in society, while entrenching the wealth and privileges of a tiny minority, has been a breath of fresh air. Of course rhetoric is one thing concrete policies another - and here the SNP's record in devolved government has not lived up to the perception of it as a champion of wealth redistribution - and too the revelation of a £444million budget underspend in the last financial year by the SNP Scottish Government in the midst of the very austerity Nicola Sturgeon has been railing invites a charge of hypocrisy. However that was then and this is now, and of the party leaders in Scotland it would certainly appear that she has drawn the correct conclusions going forward from last September's referendum.

This should no surprise, however. The remarkable vigour and vibrancy of the Yes campaign, and the equally remarkable fact that 1.6million voted to fracture a union of over three centuries duration, was less about hollow nationalism or patriotism than about equality, social and economic justice, and a desperate desire to break the Westminster duopoly of slavish attachment to free market ideology and nostrums. The SNP, to be sure, are not a socialist party, but as the polls clearly indicate they are considered firmly to the left of Scottish Labour under Jim Murphy's leadership.

In response to the latest Ashcroft poll indicating a monumental swing to the SNP from Labour all across the country in May, the mantra of the Scottish Labour leadership has been that this is good news for David Cameron - i.e. a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories. Thought this sort of scaremongering may have worked in years gone by now it merely smacks of desperation. The depiction of Labour as 'red Tories' has gained huge traction in Scotland, to the point where it is considered more the case that a vote for Labour is a vote for the same old under a red rosette rather than a blue one. Clearly Ed Miliband is no Tory and much more progressive than either of the other two main party leaders south of the border. But he still has some way to go to repair the damage inflicted by years of Blairism both on the party and on the country - in other words the normalisation of obscene levels of inequality, privatisation, poverty pay, welfare reform, deregulation of the banks, and the entrenchment of individualism by a party founded on the principle of collectivism and collectivist ideas.

The aforementioned is a measure of the extent to which Thatcherism and Thatcherite ideas have achieved hegemonic status and what's more, given the venom with which Ed Miliband has been attacked by a large section of the mainstream media in recent months, the challenge facing any leader when it comes to standing up for even the most tepid departure from those ideas is a significant one.

Jim Murphy is not such a leader, which in Scotland - a part of the UK that continues to bear deeper scars than most as a consequence of the Thatcher era - makes the Scottish Labour brand eminently toxic. With the recent revelation that Mr Murphy's supporters are, presumably with his blessing, contemplating a move to de-couple Scottish Labour from UK Labour and run it as a separate party, the malaise shows no sign of abating any time soon.

The electorate in Scotland is set to deliver Jim Murphy a harsh message come May. Labour in Scotland doesn't need to be more 'Scottish'. It needs to be more 'Labour'.