Scottish Labour leadership: the undemocratic nature of the election

Front Scottish Parliament

As Jim Murphy enters the race, the Scottish Labour leadership election highlights a fundamental lack of democracy in the party.

In recent days the contest for leader has become more intense with new candidates joining the race.

Jim Murphy MP, the shadow secretary for International Development has announced his intentions to stand as Labour leader, joining Lothian MSPs Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay.

The week began quietly, following Johann Lamont’s resignation as numerous likely candidates ruled themselves out of wanting to stand, including Anas Sarwar, Jackie Baillie and Gordon Brown.

The bookies' favourite is Jim Murphy, the former UK Labour cabinet member. Speaking in the Daily Record on Wednesday he said:“I am not going to shout at or about the SNP, I am going to talk to and listen to Scotland and I am very clear that the job I am applying for is to be the First Minister of Scotland.”

There are now three candidates, but the result is completely unpredictable, mainly due to the unfair, unequal, and dare it be said: undemocratic, nature of Labour leadership races.

Whilst Ed Miliband has changed the system to a fairer one, that process is only for UK leadership elections. Not Scottish Labour leadership elections. Additionally, the procedures for that process in the UK will not come into place next year.

The Scottish leadership election will then be held with three equal blocks of voters. Firstly, one third of the vote is made up of Scottish Labour parliamentarians (MPs, MSPs and MEPs). The second third is made up of ordinary members and the final third consists of members of affiliated trade unions and societies.

A fair system would be one where each member has one vote - a system of equal votes for a party founded in the principle of equality.

Bare in mind that this distorted system elected Ed Miliband. He won mainly due to trade union members backing him over his brother David. Perhaps if Labour had had a fairer system four years ago then there would be a different Miliband preparing for Downing Street next May.

Furthermore, with Unite expected to back Neil Findlay, a figure seen as being on the left of the party, a similar situation could arise in this election.

Last night the union’s political director tweeted: ‘#Unite Scotland welcome Neil Findlay's candidacy; 'He has a proven track record of representing the interests of working people'. ’

Labour party members could back Jim Murphy, but Finlay is likely to do much better from the third of the votes coming from trade union members. Such an outcome where normal members’ voices are drowned out by members of trade unions is completely unfair.

And although the SNP leadership race came to nothing as no one opposed Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP have a system of one member one vote, a much fairer way of deciding a leader in a democratic country than that of Labour.

Overall, the leadership race will be tight as the factions of Labour start to show, with Neil Findlay representing the left and Jim Murphy being seen as a Blairite. As for Sarah Boyack, the fact that two MSP are standing, that could split the vote in Murphy’s favour.

But whichever way the vote goes, it could be a lot fairer. A lot more democratic.