Trade union members in Unite are considering their future political strategy after the Scottish Labour party elected Jim Murphy as its new leader.
The East Renfrewshire MP won with 55 per cent of the vote on Saturday, defeating Neil Findlay MSP, the candidate backed by nine out of 11 trade unions affiliated to Labour, and Sarah Boyack MSP.
Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, has previously stated that a Murphy victory would be “political death” for Labour.
Bryan Simpson, who represents 140,000 young members across the UK on the Unite executive council, told CommonSpace he believes McCluskey’s position “struck the right tone given Jim Murphy’s track record, including publicly attacking our union”.
Murphy criticised Unite the union over the Falkirk candidate selection fiasco. Senior Unite Scotland activist Stevie Deans was accused by the party leadership of manipulating the local party selection process that was set up to find a Falkirk West constituency candidate for the 2015 general election. Deans resigned, although an internal Labour review eventually found no wrong-doing by the union.
Murphy said at the time that Unite “well and truly overstepped the mark”.
Simpson told CommonSpace that the long term future for Unite “was going to have to be towards finding a political alternative to Labour in Scotland”.
He added: “Neil Findlay’s campaign was the last possible attempt to revive the party for trade unionists in Scotland. Len was right to say a Murphy victory was a death sentence for Labour, and that it will have a knock on effect on Labour’s chances in the general election.”
“Given the wider context in Scotland, it would be completely wrong to back Murphy, who is more Blairite than Blair.”
Unite is the biggest trade union in the UK and the Labour Party’s biggest financial backer.
All decisions on Unite political strategy are made at the party’s UK annual policy conference, the next of which is in July 2015.
Mary Lockhart, formerly on the Scottish Executive of the Labour party and a member of Unite, left the party in the wake of Murphy’s victory, and told CommonSpace: “The scale of Jim Murphy’s victory was such that only the most blinkered of ‘one more heave’ socialists could believe that the party can be reclaimed, let alone transformed, in the next two generations.”
Samantha Ritchie, chair of the Scottish Youth Committee in Unite representing 14,000 young workers, had a different perspective from Lockhart and Simpson, telling CommonSpace that “for the first time, the left organised itself in Scotland, got behind the one cause and worked together.”
Ritchie is a member of Labour and campaigned for Katy Clark for deputy leader and Neil Findlay for leader. While Ritchie acknowledged Murphy had talked of tackling inequality following his election, she argued that “Murphy will never listen to the unions first and in fact I think he will want less union involvement.”
Responding to Murphy’s election, Pat Rafferty, secretary of Unite Scotland, took a more positive view.
“Arguably, Jim Murphy recognised this appetite for real change during the hustings, because as the campaign progressed his arguments became bolder on issues like taxation and a living wage,” he said.
“Jim now needs to turn words into action if he wants to start the process of re-building Scottish Labour.”
Murphy stated in his victory speech on Saturday that his leadership was a “fresh start for the Scottish Labour party”, and that he wanted to end in-fighting in the party in Scotland.
Murphy stated that the party’s aim was one of social justice and eradicating inequality, saying: “It is my driving purpose, it is our driving purpose, it’s Scottish Labour’s driving purpose to end that type of inequality once and for all. “
Meanwhile, former STUC president and Labour member Pat Kelly said after the election result that “it looks like time to leave the party I have been a member of for 35 years”.
“Politically,” Kelly added, “I no longer have much in common with the majority [in Scottish Labour]”.
Earlier this week, CommonSpace reported that trade union activists have organised a motion for branches, through the Scottish Left Project, proposing disaffiliation from Labour and entering discussions about “alternative trade union political representation”.