I’ve spent a lot of time laughing recently, first from looking at my bank account after Christmas and then from following Jim Murphy’s transformation from Bertie Wooster to Sawney Bean.
Having cultivated the impeccable British Unionist image and airily dismissing the SNP as ‘these people’ as if they were beneath him, he is now biting off the heads of the English with relish and spitting out the remains in the face of the Nationalists.
This is Anglophobic, redistributive, Tartan Army, mad-as-fuck McMurphy. He is bare-chested, tangle-haired and blood-smeared. ‘I’m See-You-Jimmy McMurphy, by the way.’
In the shipyards of the Clyde, in the classrooms and hospital wards, a roar goes up to hail the hero who is a force of nature that no man can stop – without an army.
Sturgeon? Salmond? mere human skittles to be scattered at his approach…
You have to concede, as damascene conversion goes, this is an epic. Everything he stood for is turned upside down, inside out and put back on back-to-front. ‘Blairite? Me? No way – I’m all for redistribution and universal benefits. Unionist? Me? Forget it – I’m a Labour Scottish Nationalist fighting harder than the SNP. I want them to join our party.’
The sheer welter of discombobulating releases has me grabbing for the steering wheel as my understanding of what Murphy the Original stood for veers one way then the other. Scotland has become a film lot where every day a new myth is created, a new persona emerges, a new script is written and we watch on open-mouthed.
He has even created a Scottish Labour constitution which is like the Arc of the Covenenant, a mythical artefact lurking only in the imagination of wistful old Labourites. He then went on to amend the non-existent document under the eyes of the media who are hypnotised by this daily welter of stories.
Murphy’s Game is already a triumph. Of its kind. It is entering the pantheon of publicity stunts to rival the Hitler Diaries and every sensate Scot knows it is a naked pitch for votes aimed at a narrow constituency identified by the polling. That in a way is the triumph – we are part of it like willing dupes watching a magician and relishing the trompe de l’oeil.
I don’t know how many people will be swayed by this and I doubt if many will want to own up to buying into it. But it seems to me that beyond the general election, the groundwork is being laid here for what we should have had all along – a real Labour Party. No, I don’t think Murphy believes a word of it and sees it merely as form of body grease which helps him slip sideways into Scottish politics. But, after the election, it makes it very hard to disown any of it and claim it was just a wee ruse for votes.
What he is laying down is the policy foundation – or at least the patio base – for a left-of-centre party championing home rule with a clear mandate to differentiate itself from London Labour. Even if it is moderately successful – and holding only 20 seats would be taken as such – it cannot be jettisoned and will become the framework for the Scottish Party. If the unions believe it, they could re-engage and in theory at least, we could approach what many outside the political bubble see as the logical conclusion – Labour and the SNP working together on 90 per cent of policy and committed to Home Rule/Devo Max.
It isn’t my objective which will always be independence but since the Scots rejected that, I support the Salmond view that Home Rule is the short-term objective.
I understand how Nationalists can’t begin to imagine sitting down with Murphy but in pursuing a self-interested agenda he is, against his own instincts, preparing Labour for a massive shift in emphasis, despite himself. He will become hostage to his own rhetoric if Labour people like what they hear and demand more of the same. Indeed, it wont be long before they demand a different fiscal policy and more borrowing to fund investment to defeat Balls’ (and Osborne’s) austerity plan which is crippling recovery. It won’t take much longer for the Scottish members to demand an end to Trident either and that will have its own logic for a party of the Left used to making up its own mind. (It won’t change Labour policy but it will be a statement of principle).
Murphy is devising a Jekyll and Hyde pantomime to con the voters, but in so doing, he is charting a path back to real Labour – the one he himself rejected for Blairism. Many will warm to this for the Holyrood election if it can be seen to be honest and true rather than the cynical campaign he intends. Labour dissidents should bide their time…their moment may be approaching.by