Ed Miliband has stressed that the new Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, has his full backing to make his own decisions for his party north of the border, as polls suggest a potentially devastating swing from Labour to the SNP.
Acknowledging the important impact that Scottish voters will have on the general election, Miliband denied that his own unpopularity with the electorate was a cause for concern, insisting that Jim Murphy had “a plan to show that Labour is back on the side of the people of Scotland”.
An Ipsos Mori poll last week suggested that the SNP could almost completely wipe out Labour in Scotland, giving the nationalists a 28-point in Westminster voting intention, which projects into 55 seats for the SNP and four for Labour.
Speaking at a campaigning event with Murphy in Glasgow’s east end, the UK Labour leader praised his Scottish counterpart’s “energy, dynamism and vision”, adding that it was “absolutely right that when it comes to devolved issues, for Jim to make those decisions”.
Murphy was elected leader in December following the resignation of his predecessor, Johann Lamont, who accused her Westminster colleagues of treating Scottish Labour like a branch office.
Referring specifically to one of Murphy’s first major policy announcements, his plans to use proceeds from the mansion tax, collected largely in London and the south-east, to fund 1,000 extra nurses in Scotland, Miliband insisted: “I back Jim.”
Murphy did not consult Miliband before making the announcement, which drew fire from both right and left, with the London mayor, Boris Johnson, condemning it as vindictive, and Hackney Labour MP Diane Abbott describing Murphy as “unscrupulous”.
“The principle at stake here is redistribution and equality,” said Miliband. “I believe that principle is what has made the UK strong and it’s what makes the Labour party what it is. The proceeds of a mansion tax will be used across the UK. The Tories will never understand this principle but we do.”
Acknowledging that some Scottish Labour voters had drifted away from the party since its defeat in the general election of 2010, and again in the Holyrood elections of 2011, Miliband reiterated the core Labour message that only a vote for his party guarantees a change of government in May.
“Clearly there are some voters that have moved away from us. What’s really important in what Jim is saying is that it’s a patriotic vision for Scotland, it is not a choice about whether you stand up for Scotland with the SNP or do something else with Labour. It’s a Scottish Labour party standing up for Scotland.
“There are only two outcomes from this general election and I’m confident that the people of Scotland don’t want to see a re-elected Conservative government and want a Labour government.”
Despite the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, appearing to dismiss it earlier this week, Miliband refused once again to categorically rule out a post-election deal with the SNP, saying: “I have only one focus which is a majority Labour government.”
Asked whether his experience of being jostled by yes campaigners at an Edinburgh shopping centre in the final days of the referendum campaign raised concerns about his ability to connect with Scottish voters, Miliband insisted that his impression on the streets of Scotland had been one of “great openness to our arguments”. He added: “The referendum campaign, particularly in the last couple of weeks, divided the people of Scotland. I think as you approach this general election it’s a different story and a different question.”
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