Monday, 8 December 2014

Murphy's memory

THE Scottish Labour leadership contest has put a focus on the bizarre system used for the election.

Equal weight is given to three different sized parts of an unwieldy “electoral college”:  parliamentarians; party members; and affiliated trade unions and socialist societies.

In practice, the college means the vote of one MSP is equal to the votes of 168 party members.

However, leadership frontrunner Jim Murphy has made the bold claim that this will be the “last time” the college is used in Scotland.

At a lunch last week with Sunday journalists, he was asked whether the party Review he and leadership rival Sarah Boyack conducted in 2011 had recommended ending the college.

His reply: “And the Scottish Labour party’s agreed to it, but it just wasn’t implemented in time."

He added: "The Review didn't come up with the detail, but the idea was for it to be implemented."

I think Murphy has got this wrong: the Murphy-Boyack review did NOT back the abolition of the college.

I understand there was a recommendation to tweak the college by reducing the votes of parliamentarians, trade unions and members to 30% each, and giving councillors the remaining 10%.

According to a piece in the Times in 2011, the proposal was axed by the party's governing body.

As one senior party source told me: “There is no mention whatsoever in the 2011 Review of ending the electoral college, certainly not one of the recommendations.”

The insider added: “No change has been approved.”

Of course, the college has been phased out for future UK leadership elections.

One-member-one-vote was approved this year at a special UK conference, but the reform did not extend to Scottish contests as the rules are devolved.

The bottom line is that the Scottish party has not scrapped the college and its own conference would have to approve of changes to the franchise.

However, when I put this to Murphy last week, he repeated his line:

“The Scottish Labour party already agreed to make these changes."

He added: “The unions voted for it north and south of the border”.

Murphy may have to revisit this view and, if he crowned leader on Saturday, his first meeting of the party’s Scottish Executive should be interesting.