In Conversation with Jim Murphy

 

Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and Labour Cabinet Minister Rt Hon Jim Murphy joined Lisa Tremble in September 2015 to discuss the future of the Scottish Labour Party in the wake of its defeat by the SNP at the General Election and the future of the Labour party following the election of Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Mishcon Academy: In Conversation with Jim Murphy

Lisa Tremble

So, if you’ve got any questions I’ll kind of look to the audience and you can pitch in as and when.  I’m sure you’ll have plenty.  So, you know, let’s start with Scotland.  Obviously you played an informal role in the Better Together campaign but you saw first hand what was going on.  Can you just talk us through the campaign, tell us what you think went wrong basically.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Well, first of all, thanks for inviting me and thank you for coming along, it’s a way to get off work for an hour or so, so thanks for coming along.  What went right, first of all is we won.  The no, let’s say the no side, we won the… Of course the anniversary of the referendum is tomorrow.  I mean a lot’s happened in a year.  I hadn’t even become the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party a year ago.  I got twenty one weeks in that job.

Lisa Tremble

Not enough time to collect pension contributions?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

No, and probably not as generous as here.  Jeremy Corbyn’s nearly had one week.

Lisa Tremble

Yeah.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

So, he’s only got twenty weeks to go to beat me.  Let’s hope of course he does serve much longer than that.

So, the referendum we won.  Why we had the referendum in Scotland is it was probably unavoidable.  The SNP won the election eight years ago.  Nationalists believe in the creation of nation states so they demanded a referendum but the decision to have a referendum doesn’t lie with the Scottish people, in a constitutional sense it doesn’t, nor in a constitutional sense does it lie with the Government of Scotland – Scotland has two Governments of course, the UK Government and the Scottish Government – but the Scottish Government does not have legal power to organise an official binding referendum.  It could call a consultative referendum which wouldn’t in any way be binding and have no legal status but unlike the Spanish Government which, in my ill-informed opinion, is making mistakes in Catalonia – Spain has basically said no to the Catalonian independence referendum.

The Spanish constitution, as I understand it, forbids referendum for all sorts of reasons like Franco and dictatorship and a kind of dictatorship of the mob, populous use of the mob, so that’s in their constitution.

We don’t, as you all know, we don’t have a written constitution so once the SNP won an election they said we want a referendum.  Cameron was faced with a choice of saying no or saying yes but in certain circumstances, and I think he did well in that regard, I think David Cameron (I’ll turn this off, I am sorry), I think David Cameron had a good referendum, I thought he did well and as one aside, an anecdote relating to it, David Cameron came to Scotland during the referendum and the Conservative Party struggle in Scotland, and I know the Labour Party is struggling at the moment, but it’s counter, and it has become, and I don’t like this, it’s become counter-cultural to be a Tory in Scotland.

There are about four to five hundred thousand people who do vote Conservative but it’s not something that people publicly admit to – smoking yeah, drink-driving occasionally but voting Conservative no – so he came to Scotland and he knew the extent to which the SNP were saying if you vote no and stay in the United Kingdom you are going to keep a Tory Government.  David Cameron came to Scotland during the referendum and he was self-effacing, he said ‘This isn’t about me’ and he said on BBC in Scotland ‘The effing Tories aren’t going to be here forever.  This isn’t a chance to kick me, if you want to kick me kick me next year in the election but let’s stay in the same country’ and I bumped into him a couple of weeks later and my daughter who is sixteen said ‘That David Cameron isn’t as bad as everyone said he is’ and I told him that and he said ‘I’m sure she’s going through a period of re-education’ and I said, ‘Yep, she’s down a salt mine because we didn’t bring her up that way’.  So, I thought he did well, I thought David Cameron did well in the referendum, he was self-deprecating, the mistake he made was, you won’t recall this, but the night of the result instead of announcing, ‘Great’, and then getting on the first plane to Scotland and building bridges and saying ‘Let’s all work together’, he announced an entirely legitimate policy, English votes for English laws, and a lot of Scots said ‘You’ve announced this at three o’clock in the morning as the votes are still being counted, you had this planned before the vote, why didn’t you tell us those were the rules of the game?  Why didn’t you say we’re going to stay, the deal is you stay in the UK but you have less influence within the UK’.  And that’s led to a genuine, I think a well-founded sense of you told us one thing and to some extent you are doing something different and that’s where I think he messed up.

Lisa Tremble

Was there like a tipping point?  Do you feel during the campaign that suddenly it became clear that actually the SNP could win it?  Or did you feel that right from the word go you thought right this is really going to be a tough battle and we may lose?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

There wasn’t one moment, there wasn’t one moment except for about ten days before it, there was one big moment ten days before it which was a second TV debate, there was two big TV debates between Alistair Darling who was the Chair of the All Party Better Together campaign, Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems together along with the Civic Society and others, versus the Yes Campaign which was the SNP and others who were in favour of that argument, and Alistair was the Chair of it so he was the spokesman, so it was Alistair versus Alex Salmond.

Alistair won the first debate by on points, not dramatically, but everyone said he won the first debate and he lost the second debate really pretty badly.  And that was the only, in my opinion, the only genuinely big breakthrough moment for the Yes Campaign.

The view was, because it was all about the currency, which currency would an independent Scotland use?  Now the legal position, but hey the truth didn’t really matter.  The legal position was if the United Kingdom, if the rest of the United Kingdom didn’t wish for Scotland to use sterling then, they could use sterling as pieces of paper in a bartering sense but it wouldn’t have a legal status across the United Kingdom so Scotland would be left without an official currency, and as a new member state of the European Union, would have to commit to joining the euro.  That’s a complicated truth which Alistair Darling told, but Alex Salmond just said ‘That’s a scare story.  Are you telling me England’s going to come and take the pounds from our pockets, purses and wallets?’ and Alistair said ‘No’, at which point Scotland was getting to keep its own, getting to share the UK currency.  So that was a breakthrough moment but the SNP had already caught up by then.  It was just gradual and it was the sense of ‘If you love Scotland you should vote for independence.  If you love Britain you should vote to stay part of the United Kingdom’.  And we’re all complex in our identity and we won’t have a lot of time to talk about our different cultural identities but not one of us, we would be very unusual if we were singularly homogeneous in terms of our identity but most people in Scotland, not all, but most would say we are Scottish first.  I think more so than in England where people would, more people in England would say there are British and then English although there is probably a trend of convergence there.  But most people in Scotland would say ‘I am Scottish first and then I am British’.  I would certainly say that.

But they had successfully, over a period of time, managed to capture the imagery, the culture, the sentiment, the history even of a nation and somehow monopolise it to the Yes cause and sometimes I felt when I was doing TV debates during that thing the audience, I’ve built this up wrong it’s not a great image for you I accept, that the audience perceived me to be kind of wearing Union Jack boxer shorts under my suit like it was Britain first.  But the truth is I wanted Scotland to stay in the UK because I felt it was good for Scotland.  Sorry if that sounds self-interested.  And the same time when it comes to the European Union referendum I want the UK to stay in the EU because I think it’s great for the UK.  If I thought it was good for the UK to leave the EU I’d vote for it.  It’s not for me, it’s not a grand political project.

Every UK election, and I say this as someone who is a member of a party that has lost more elections than it has won, I think there’s only two labour leaders out of the last ten who have actually won a majority.  Two out of ten, so for younger people here, you think, ah well there’s a kind of mix and match, you get Labour for a while, you get Tory for a while, you get Labour for a while and you’ve lived mostly through Labour, that, most of you know that’s just not the norm.  Two out of ten leaders have won a majority but every election since the Second World War, bar one, I can entirely understand the result and actually you can see, entirely see the logic.

The only one I don’t understand, and I’m delving into history, is that also Winston Churchill obviously lost to Clement Attlee post-war in July ’45 and he became Prime Minister.  Churchill seemingly went into retirement but returned and defeated Attlee after the Labour Government had initiated the National Health Service and much else besides and that return of Churchill is the only election I can’t understand.  I know there are arguments for it but every other election you can retro analyse and say ‘The public got it right’ even when it hurts my party you can entirely understand it.

So, the British public who can be individuals, can be extreme, individuals can be ill-informed, individuals can be eccentric, the aggregate decision they make you can always say ‘You know what, they get it about right’.  So the last general, the general election before this one, there really was no-one, no-one was worthy of  winning, so no-one won and then this time around they didn’t think Ed Miliband should be Prime Minister and therefore David Cameron won an unexpected victory.

Lisa Tremble

What part do you think Scotland played in that because obviously Scotland was a massive shocker I think?  Did you expect it to be that bad?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

When I became the Scottish Labour Leader we were, we had about twenty something percent of the vote and we ended with twenty, it made no difference because people weren’t listening.  Passions were so high because the, so the referendum was a year ago tomorrow and the election, of course, was in May but for many people the election in May was referendum round two, ‘You so and so’s, you stopped us being a normal country so we’re going to punish you the Labour Party’.

So what you had is you had 55/45 split at the referendum, 55% to stay in the UK, 45 to leave, but if you remember the 45% you only have one party to vote for, SNP.  And if you get 45% of the vote you win every election, almost every election, in this country.  So the three, Labour, Tory and Lib Dems had to compete with each other for the 55 so it was going to be truly awful and passions were so high.  Even now people offer impolite observations about me in the street.

I’ve written an article for next week’s New Statesman about this, about what can you learn from the Scottish referendum and Jeremy Corbyn’s victory and what does it mean for the European referendum and, on the basis you have uttered a profanity already, I will do the same.  Sometimes people shout at me and ask, so many people shout at me on the street that I sometimes think my first name has changed to ‘Murphy’ and my surname has changed to ‘You bastard’.

Lisa Tremble

Should there be an English Labour Party?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Yeah, I’m comfortable with that.  I can’t see why not.  You see the World Cup, the Rugby World Cup starts what, this weekend, tomorrow?

Lisa Tremble

Tomorrow, yeah.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

They’re all going yeah, tomorrow, they all know about it.  I got pictured with the trophy yesterday, it’s the nearest any Scot will get to it.  But when you watch it on telly or if you go, it will be England flags.

Now, twenty years ago, some of you will know this, football and maybe rugby, certainly football, it would be the Union flag.  If you watch England, you see England playing football now, you see the flag of St George it’s not the Union flag so, I mean, it’s not for me to intrude into the nature of Englishness I think England, in my opinion, forgive me for sounding complacent because I know there are examples and outbursts where this doesn’t happen but I happen to think England is the most tolerant part of the United Kingdom, it’s the most patient and understanding part of the United Kingdom.  Certainly if, at the moment Scotland gets £1,200 more per person per head in public service investment and you all go ‘Oh well, there might be a reason’.  Do you know if England was getting £1,200 more per head we’d be invading you, and we’ve got all the nuclear submarines so there’s nothing you could do.

Lisa Tremble

Not for long, not for long.

Jim Murphy

Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Yeah, that’s the problem if you are independent.

Lisa Tremble

I just want to start to switch on.  Was the election of Jeremy really a reflection on the other three candidates not making strong enough arguments?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

It’s a reflection on lots of things but the main thing is ‘To hell with you all.  To hell with you all, we want something different’.  There was also a strain of thought which was, in 2010 no matter which brother you voted for, certainly if you voted for David you could argue that you were voting for your choice to be the next Prime Minister and people who voted for Ed were also I think had that view, I didn’t vote for him so I didn’t have that view.  And less people thought that this time, there were fewer people who thought, ‘You know what, this is a vote for who we think is going to be the next Prime Minster.  I can protest.’  And there was a general sense of ‘To hell with everyone.  To hell with the establishment.  To hell with the established politics.  I’m angry’.  What’s that, what’s that movie?  I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.  I forget what movie…

Audience Member
Broadcast News.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

What was it?

Audience Member
Broadcast News.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Broadcast News.  It was like a scene from… go and watch that movie, it’s like a little bit like that.  I’m sick of it all.  And you know what?  I’m not going to compromise.  I am not compromising with what I believe in so I’m going to vote for this guy and actually I don’t see him as a candidate, I see it as a cause.  It wasn’t about Jeremy, this isn’t about Jeremy because, as I say, I’m not going to criticise his integrity at all, he believes, he believes passionately what he believes, he’s always believed it – I don’t think that’s a strength incidentally.  I think if someone always believes the same thing, I think it’s pretty dogmatic, I see it as a sense of weakness not strength.  Everyone changes, we all change our minds on something, maybe not on the big issues but on some of the smaller ones, we nuance or reflect on our views but it wasn’t about Jeremy as a candidate because any candidate that has to finish a speech with, finish most, if not all speeches with, ‘Thank you very much’ isn’t a good speaker.  A good orator who should be able to motivate a movement shouldn’t need as a signal to their audience, ‘I’ve finished now by saying thank you very much’.

Lisa Tremble

Oh god, I don’t know what I’m going to say at the end now.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

I was thinking.  I realised when I was going to say that that I wondered what you were going to say.  But a real orator should make you want to think, ‘Have they finished yet?  I want to get up and applaud’.

Audience Member
Do you think the longer Corbyn stays in power then the sort of mindset of everyone will believe that the centre ground is slightly more left?  Or do you think the longer he stays people will get fed up with him?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

No. he’s not Bobby Kennedy.  Bobby Kennedy, the view around the Democrats at the time was, you can change the political gravity and the centre of the spectrum of political opinion as a candidate, there are very few people who do that, Mrs Thatcher didn’t manage to do it, you have to be, my view, you would usually have to be in Government to do that.  So, Blair did it in certain ways on issues such as minimum wage, on civil liberties, gay marriage, okay he didn’t introduce gay marriage but he changed the centre of gravity in politics in that sense.  Mrs Thatcher did it.  But they do it as a powerful Prime Minister.  He won’t move the centre of gravity.  The politics of ‘Come and join us over here’ doesn’t work.  Shouting at the public to come and join you doesn’t work, you become a protest movement, it doesn’t work.

Audience Member
But surely it did.  I mean on social media, certainly I’ve had it whereby there were so many people shouting from the far left.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Absolutely.  But Twitter isn’t the real world.

Audience Member
But I think a lot of people get confused that it is.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

They definitely do and that way lies danger.  I like to believe I’m not as hated in real life as I am on social media but then I go home and then I figure out it’s even worse.

Lisa Tremble

Any other questions before we finish up and I don’t thank anyone?

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Look I’m just being, the reason why I might sound pessimistic, I’m just being open and honest.  Look, if I was still in politics I would say, my answers would be slightly different, I would be trying to convince you that ‘Look this Corbyn thing might work out for the best…’

Lisa Tremble

We’ve seen a lot of those faces these past few days.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Look, I’m not a member of parliament and I didn’t make the mistake of being in his shadow cabinet, right?  And therefore I am free from, it’s the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, I didn’t choose this, right?  But on the basis that I didn’t choose it I will make a virtue out of it which is that for the first time in a quarter of a century I can actually share what I think.  Now I’m not usually a relentless pessimist because you don’t, pessimists don’t really join political parties.  Pessimists sit in front of the telly and shout at the telly about political parties, right?  And all parties, it’s usually optimists who join and try and change things but on the basis it’s a freedom I haven’t had for nearly a quarter of a century I’m quite enjoying it.

Is that okay?

Lisa Tremble
That was okay.  That’s optimistic.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
That’s as optimistic as you’re getting.

Lisa Tremble
That’s definitely optimistic.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Invite me back in a year and I’ll say, ‘My ill-founded pessimism was ill-judged’.  David Cameron resigned under the weight of the scrutiny of Mrs Jones from Hertfordshire sending a furious email that Comrade Corbyn read out and he said ‘You’ve got me there. You’re right.  I resign’.  And George Osborne couldn’t come up with a smart answer so they both resigned.  Not very confident.

Audience Member
Can I make a suggestion?  You might try to finish with something completely different.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Okay.

Audience Member
Okay.  So here it goes, it’s a bit like we’re talking about the National Anthem and whether you do or you don’t like it but of course, you know, fortunately, as Scots we are seldom called upon to sing the fourth verse because, you never get that far and of course the fourth verse is about…

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Rebellious Scots to crush.

Audience Member
That’s it.  That’s our National Anthem we have to sing about crushing us.

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
You know, on the basis that the Scottish National Anthem is a dreadful dirge about killing the English.

Audience Member
Well it is but it reminds me, it reminds me of a Billy Connolly sketch where he talks about how the Scottish one is also absolutely terrible and he makes a suggestion which perhaps we could finish with today and that is, and it takes us back to something you were saying earlier on, the Scots should actually adopt the theme tune from The Archers as their…

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Oh Billy Connolly did do a sketch with that, you’re right.

Audience Member
Absolutely.  So, maybe that’s how…

Jim Murphy
Former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
He got a walk as well.

Audience Member
So maybe that’s how we finish on a bright note, we just hum The Archers and leave by the back door.

Lisa Tremble
That is a brilliant idea yeah.

Audience Member
Anyway, it’s been fantastic, it’s ranged from Scottish politics to national and international and I think it’s been very honest and very open and I think we’ve very much enjoyed your insight so I’ll leave the rest unsaid.