Friday, 21 November 2014

Scottish Labour tensions, part 54

A big row is brewing over the running of the Scottish Labour leadership contest -  a controversy that has reached UK party general secretary Iain McNicol.

To recap, three candidates – Jim Murphy MP and MSPs Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack – are facing off in the party’s rather odd electoral college.

The college is split into three equal sized chunks and gives the same weight of vote to a) affiliated trade unions/socialist societies b) parliamentarians and c) ordinary party members.

The source of the tension is that the Scottish party’s Procedures Committee has decided that the vote of the parliamentarian section (80 strong) should not be private.

Put simply, each vote cast by an MSP, MP and MEP will be published.

In the 2011 Scottish Labour leadership election, all sections of the college were governed by secret ballots. What does this change mean in practice?

A majority of parliamentarians have declared for one of three candidates, with most plumping for the frontrunner Murphy.

Others have kept quiet, such as big hitters like Johann Lamont, Margaret Curran, Anas Sarwar and Gordon.

The party rethink means there will be no hiding place for any of the elected members, some of whom I am told are "absolutely furious.”

One insider said the decision benefits Murphy.

MPs and MSPs who may have been tempted to cast a private ballot for Findlay may now think twice.

Why? If Murphy wins, casting a public vote against him may not be the greatest career move.

Another issue is the ballot paper sent to party members this week.

A booklet containing each candidate’s pitch and nominations was also included in the pack.

However, the nominations in the pack related only to parliamentarians, the bulk of whom are backing Murphy.

Trade union and constituency party nominations – a large number of which have gone to Findlay – were not included.

Ordinary party members reading the nominations are left with the impression that Murphy has way more nominations than his rival.

My insider said: “Folk are seething. It's a shambles."

It is understood trade union general secretaries have complained directly to McNicol.

A Scottish Labour spokesman told me the decision to publish the votes of MSPs, MPs and MEPs was to “encourage transparency”.

As of 19.30 this evening, no candidate has put in a formal complaint. Yet.