Given that he’s the last Labour MP left in Scotland, it’s perhaps just as well that Ian Murray is a quite interesting figure, because there’s going to be a lot of attention on him in the next five years.
Unlike the over-promoted, under-skilled, Buggins’-turn knife-and-fork-operators who’ve disgraced what were previously weigh-the-vote Labour constituencies in Scotland for decades, the member for Edinburgh South has some genuinely admirable qualities. As we noted before the election, he’s earned a reputation as a hard-working local MP: holding surgeries, replying diligently to letters and speaking up in the Commons.
He’s got a sense of humour about his lonely role, he’s the only Unionist politician ever to talk to Wings on the record, and on account of running a large tent at the Bath Festival most years he’s well known to several of our good friends in the city, who all speak highly of his personal character and work ethic.
So in all seriousness, we’re not without respect for the man. Which makes it all the more painful every time he opens his mouth.
That’s because Ian Murray is someone who seems like he’d be an excellent public servant – a conscientious social worker or head of a council department or something – if only he wasn’t in a political party. Whenever he’s required to take a partisan position, which is all the time, it’s a trainwreck.
Whether Murray’s describing someone putting a couple of tiny stickers on his office as “out of control” vandalism and intimidation, babbling gibberish on TV in an attempt to defend Jim Murphy’s “biggest party forms the government” lie, making flatly untrue claims about how he voted in Parliamentary debates or telling people that he ran the entire Edinburgh Festival for seven years when he didn’t (a claim which still appears on his website), almost every public utterance he makes is an embarrassment.
By way of evidence, in an interview published on the Holyrood Magazine website today the shadow Scottish Secretary is driven by his political responsibilities into spouting some of the most arrant drivel you’ll have the misfortune to read this year.
“The SNP guaranteed the people of Scotland that ‘if you vote SNP we’ll deliver a Labour government’, and it didn’t happen. Why didn’t it happen? They won most of the seats in Scotland and it stopped us being the largest party.”
We’re not sure we remember the SNP “guaranteeing” that.
Labour, of course, lost the election by 98 seats, while there are only 59 in the whole of Scotland. And we know that Labour KNOWS being the largest party doesn’t actually mean anything anyway, because we know they had two pages of bullet points ready on election night to argue that you could still form the government if you weren’t.
It’s mindboggling that Murray is still trying to trot out the line that voting SNP let the Tories in, when an eight-year-old child’s grasp of arithmetic is sufficient to prove that it didn’t. (Indeed, we know it was Labour votes that actually gave the Tories a majority.)
It’s not just partisan, it’s stupid. Everyone knows it’s a lie. And when Holyrood’s editor Mandy Rhodes duly calls Murray on it, he digs the hole even deeper.
“[RHODES] I point out it was losing in England that stopped Labour being the largest party. Even winning every seat in Scotland wouldn’t have changed that.
[MURRAY] ‘And why did we lose in England, that’s the question I’ll pose back to you.’
‘You speak to Andrew Pakes in Milton Keynes, speak to the candidate in Southampton, speak to the guys in Plymouth, speak to the guys in Wales, anywhere you want in the country where there’s a marginal Labour seat, the biggest single issue that stopped Labour winning the General Election was the threat of Alex Salmond.'”
Leaving aside that defeated candidates are always on the lookout for someone other than themselves to blame for losing (and that Alex Salmond isn’t the leader of the SNP and was only ever going to be a backbench MP, which people in Milton Keynes could do nothing whatsoever about), we have actual scientific evidence on it.
The British Election Study is a very large and widely-respected academic survey which looked in enormous depth at voting patterns in the election and concluded “we don’t find there is a significant or substantial effect of the threat of the SNP forming a coalition government with the Labour Party”, a view that’s shared by the independent blog Number Cruncher Politics.
Murray goes on to blithely repeat the bizarre claim that Kezia Dugdale – Jim Murphy’s deputy and the actual Scottish Labour leader in Holyrood since last December – somehow represents a “fresh start” from the regime which led the branch office to the most catastrophic defeat in its lifetime, before asserting the Unionist line du jour, namely that Scotland is now a “one-party state”.
“Nobody wants a one-party state, and nobody wants a one-party state with a government that is trying to be everything and do everything for anyone when there’s big issues out there.”
That’s a fairly bewildering semantic labyrinth of a sentence – surely you DO want a government that’s trying to do everything for its people when there are big issues at stake? – but it refers to a ludicrous belief anyway.
As recently as just 14 years ago, Scotland was run by a Labour-led administration at Holyrood and 80% of Scottish MPs were in a huge majority Labour government at Westminster, with most of the population also under Labour-controlled local councils.
If you’re looking for a one-party state, that’s a lot closer to one than the SNP being in charge at Holyrood, but with their budget set by the Conservatives in the UK parliament and sole command of just two of Scotland’s 32 councils.
Murray then tries another recently-coined Labour meme:
“[RHODES] I put it to Murray that the SNP has managed to combine being a party of protest while still being in government very successfully.
[MURRAY] ‘That’s what they have got away with for too long. Let’s take a syringe into Scottish politics and suck out everything to do with the constitution. Going into the 2016 election the SNP would be in trouble.'”
It’s unsurprising that Labour desperately WANT this to be true, but the evidence just doesn’t back it up. A poll earlier this month found just 21% of Scottish voters unhappy with the Scottish Government’s handling of education, 23% unhappy with its management of health and 37% unhappy with the state of policing (and that despite a months-long stream of negative press stories on the subject).
But more to the point, even when people aren’t necessarily happy with how various areas that are already devolved (and therefore nothing to do with the constitution) are being dealt with, they don’t think Labour is the solution:
But gripped by the delusion, Murray won’t be told:
“Therein lies the difficulty. If you look at it on a very crude and basic level, the SNP can guarantee 40-45 per cent of the electorate because of issues surrounding the constitution and people want another referendum.”
But people aren’t voting for the SNP because they want another referendum (although of course many do). They’re voting for the SNP because they’re the only party in Scotland that’s seen as remotely competent. Labour sticking their fingers in their ears and simply bellowing “SNP BAD!”, as if they’re a bunch of racist tourists and voters are Ibizan waiters who’ll only understand if you shout something loud and slowly enough, isn’t going to solve their troubles.
Mandy Rhodes doggedly continues her attempts at imparting enlightenment:
“[RHODES] I ask Murray if the party has been using Tory rhetoric. For example, before the election, Rachel Reeves said Labour was not the party of people out of work. That, to many people, suggested a shift to the right. He does not agree:
‘Well, that is just a line. No one is the party of people that are out of work. The opposite of that would be the Labour Party saying, ‘we are the party of people who are out of work’. That’s ludicrous.'”
But months on from Reeves’ initial comments, the message still hasn’t penetrated. To a supposedly socialist politician, the idea that the Labour Party might be proud to be seen to look after the poorest and most vulnerable in society is still “ludicrous”.
(Murray then blusters on about helping people into work, seemingly completely unaware of the callous contempt implied by his angry dismissal of the idea that Labour might defend people who need help and who are being brutally attacked by a vicious ideological Tory government. Unavoidably, his words suggest that there are enough jobs for everyone and that therefore everyone who’s unemployed is somehow responsible for it themselves.)
We want to like Ian Murray. Honestly we do. We’re sure his heart’s basically in the right place. But the only way it’s ever going to happen is if he shuts up, for his own good as much as anything else, and concentrates on working for his constituents, which he appears to be good at, rather than making clodhoppingly stupid public pronouncements on behalf of the sinking ship of a party he finds himself chained to.
Maybe he’s known that all along, and he was hoping to be disowned when he made some crass and rather ageist comments about Jeremy Corbyn at the end of July:
But if so it didn’t work, and Murray remains in the shadow Cabinet, bound by the party whip into a public-speaking role for which he’s desperately ill-suited. We’d advise readers to buckle in for a lot more stupid between now and 2020, and an awful lot of miserable poll ratings for Scottish Labour.