Jim Murphy says he is absolutely confident the Scottish Labour party remains in charge of decision making in Scotland after a difficult 24 hours in which senior shadow cabinet ministers appeared to publicly contradict his spending plans.
Insisting he and the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, in particular were “singing from the same hymn sheet”, Murphy denied he was feeling bruised after Monday’s events which saw Balls appear to contradict Murphy’s suggestion that there would be no further cuts in Scotland after 2015-16 under Labour in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.
Later, speaking on the Daily Politics, the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, put it even more bluntly. “The leader of the Scottish Labour party will not be in charge of the UK budget,” in what was interpreted as a direct rebuke to Murphy as Ed Miliband attempted to rebrand Labour at his manifesto launch as the party of fiscal responsibility.
Speaking after a campaign visit to a nursery near Cumbernauld, Murphy argued: “You’re comparing what Ed Balls did say and what I didn’t say. I’ve been clear from the beginning that we’ve got to make savings. Ed and I have both been very clear that we have to balance the books, but it isn’t all about cuts. It’s a different approach to how we run our economy.”
Asked how damaging these statements were following Murphy’s own efforts since his election to counter to charge made by his predecessor Johann Lamont that the Westminster party treated Scotland like “a branch office”, he replied: “People can say that, but look ... the size of the budget is determined by the Labour party as a whole. How the money is spent in Scotland is a decision for the Scottish Labour party.
“When it comes to devolved policies on health and education, you’ll see in our manifesto later in the week just how we’ll spend this money. That’s a decision for the Scottish Labour party and no one else.” He added that he was absolutely confident that this remains the case.
Asked about Monday’s TNS poll which showed that the SNP had almost doubled its lead over Labour in Scotland, Murphy insisted: “I’m confident that the night before the election we’ll be having a different conversation. When we launch our manifesto people will see the things we stand for, see the energy in our campaign and the closing message for the last two weeks of the campaign. I think we can turn these polls around.”
Referring to the 29% of voters who TNS identified as still being undecided, an unusually high number this close to an election, Murphy added: “I know those people are people who have traditionally voted Labour and we’re making a vast effort talking to them each individually. That third of Scottish voters will decide the fate of the entire UK election.”
Asked if Labour’s manifesto message of fiscal responsibility was unhelpful in Scotland, where the SNP seem to be successfully portraying their opponents as the party of cuts, and little different from the Tories, Murphy said: “Scots have a tradition of wanting to balance the books. The issue is how you do it. You’ve got the Tories saying cuts, cuts, cuts and the SNP [with their flagship policy of full fiscal autonomy] want to cut Scotland off from the rest of the UK when it comes to pooling and sharing resources and taxes.”
Murphy also accused the Scottish Conservatives of becoming cheerleaders for the SNP, a charge echoed by the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, earlier on Tuesday when he slammed the Conservatives for helping to fuel the rise of SNP support in Scotland.
At a campaign event in North East Fife, Rennie said: “Within minutes of the result of the referendum being announced, David Cameron stood on the steps of Downing Street and sought to secure a majority for the Conservatives on English votes for English laws. Instead of healing the nation after a fractious referendum he inflamed the situation. This only helped to fuel the rise of support for the SNP in Scotland.
“The Conservative election campaign has repeatedly talked up the SNP. Immediately after the UK leaders’ debates, George Osborne was talking up the performance of Nicola Sturgeon. I am not sure what kind of bizarre tactical game he was playing but it can only have helped the SNP increase their support further.”
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland reporter, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 14th April 2015 13.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010