Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Murphy's Holyrood options

As Jim Murphy announces his reshuffle and plans to rewrite his party’s constitution, the significant matter of how and when he will get to Holyrood remains unresolved.

On Sunday, he said he was not attracted to a dual mandate, which all but ruled him out of standing for Westminster in 2015.

He repeated that he will be a Holyrood candidate in 2016, but left the door open to entering the Scottish Parliament before then. His exact plans will be announced in the “New Year”.

Speaking to his allies, several options have emerged.

 1. The most obvious option is to get selected in a Labour first-past the post-seat for the 2016 election. 
A trio of MSPs – John Pentland, Ken Macintosh and Hugh Henry – had been tipped to make way, but all three have stated their intention to stand again. KM in particular does not see himself as part of Murphy’s chess game.
However, u-turns are an accepted part of political life and nobody would be hugely surprised if one of the three made way. At least one other FPTP MSP is likely to retire ahead of the 2016 poll, so Murphy will have options. 
The bottom line is, if Murphy wants to get selected in an existing seat, his party will deliver.
This option would mean him taking a year out of elected politics: you only have to be a parliamentarian to get elected Scottish Labour leader; there is no rule that says you must continue to be one after winning.

     2.   A related option is to stand in a constituency and on a regional List at the same time in 2016. However, the ‘protected places’ given to existing List MSPs is an obstacle.
If an incumbent List MSP passes a trigger ballot, nobody else can get a higher ranking.
Johann Lamont tried to scrap this rule, which is said to protect deadwood MSPs, but she bottled reform. I am told Murphy will scrap protected places and allow all members – perhaps even MPs – to go for top billing on the Lists.
      Of course, a rule change would also mean Murphy coming top of whichever List ballot interested him.
    3.   A riskier option is persuading an MSP to stand down soon and timing a by-election to coincide with the next general election.
 However, the opinion polls are problematic. Labour is not a shoo-in in any part of Scotland just now, and Murphy could not be certain of avoiding a humiliation.
The SNP and the wider Yes movement would pile bodies into the seat and Murphy’s Holyrood bid would turn into a soap opera.
       Far better, an ally of his said to me, for Murphy to improve his party's reputation over the next 12 months and stand in 2016 when the gap between Labour and the SNP is narrower.
      Oh, and as has already been stated, an MSP standing down before 2016 would take a financial hit. MSPs love their parties, but not as much as their wallets.

    4.  The most bonkers suggestion I’ve heard floated is for Murphy to try to become a List MSP before 2016. 
 The idea explored is a) get an existing List MSP to stand down b) persuade the other candidates who were on the same List in 2016, but who were were unsuccessful, to waive their right to take a place at Holyrood c)somehow ensure Murphy gets the vacant slot.
I’m no legal eagle, but I’m sure this barmy pub chat option has no basis in law. A party can’t retrospectively change its candidate list from a previous election.
However, the fact it has even been suggested shows how keen Murphy is to get to Holyrood.

So, the safest bet is 2. Option 3 is highly risky. Number 4 is just nuts.