Scots have to engage with Keir Starmer to stop constitutional merry-go-round

Scottish voters have to re-engage with UK politics if they want rid of Boris Johnson’s Tory government, Labour’s only MP in Scotland has warned.

Ahead of the Labour conference in Brighton, Ian Murray said Scotland would be stuck in a “constitutional merry-go-round” unless his party makes an electoral break-through.

Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary in Starmer’s cabinet, said the Labour leader faces a huge task to connect with Scots at his first in-person conference as leader, and to offer a credible alternative to the SNP and the Conservatives.

Speaking to the Daily Record, Murray said: “Scottish voters have to decide. If they wish to change the colour of the government at Westminster they have to participate in UK politics.”

“Our job, our half of the deal, is to give them a policy platform and a party that they can feel is a credible alternative government. Hopefully, the two sides can come together and they can vote for us.”

Murray made his frustrated appeal to voters with polling showing Labour still adrift of the Tories at UK level and reduced to the third party role at Holyrood in the wake of the 2014 referendum divide.

He said: “Most Scots who want to vote Yes tell us what they want is to get rid of this wretched Tory government. Well, to get rid of the wretched Tories you’ve got to have a Labour alternative with the vision Keir is going to set out.”

“So, this is a big conference, huge for Keir. I think a lot of the public don’t know him because the news has been full of covid for the last 18 months, he’s not at a chance to speak to the country.”

“I think this week he has to speak directly to the country, speak over the party to the country.”

Murray, the sole Labour survivor of the SNP tsunami after the 2014 referendum, ruled out Starmer making any deal with the nationalists to get into Downing Street.

He said it was a “myth” that a second referendum would be the price extracted by the SNP for backing a Labour government.

Murray predicted the pressure would be on the SNP, not the Labour party, if Starmer falls short of a Commons majority at the next election.

He said: “You don’t need the SNP to be in any sort of coalition because you would essentially be saying to the SNP you either back a progressive Labour government or bring about a general election that could deliver a Tory government, it would be 1979 all over again.”

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Starmer has already ruled out any deal with the SNP and Murray drove the point home to the shadow cabinet, warning Labour MPs they face life-long opposition if they do not offer Scots an alternative.

Murray said: “Keir Starmer will be saying no to the SNP. He will be walking into Downing Street with a mandate from the people to deliver a manifesto which is not about defending the broken status quo or about separation, but the Labour Party’s radical constitutional offering for the 2020s.”

“So, questions about blocking referendums or doing deals are actually red herrings because mathematically and politically it won’t happen, and doesn’t need to happen.”

Murray said he is “bored and frustrated” with what he calls the constitutional merry-go-round and claimed many Scottish voters shared his frustration.

He said: “We’re looking at politics through the constitutional prism, while everything around us is on fire. Until we lift our eyes, and start looking at the problems that we’ve got and using the powers of the Scottish parliament, we’re not going to be in a position to be able to achieve anything but having grievance-mongering and a constitutional merry go round.”

“For the vast majority of the public who don’t wake up every morning thinking about the constitution, they must look at Scottish politics and just roll their eyes and say ‘what is going on?’”

He added: “For example, a promised state-owned energy company, dropped after a standing ovation at SNP conference. We could quadruple the child payment right now and take the 300,000 kids out of poverty. All of that is just pushed to one side, sacrificed on the altar of the constitution.”

Murray found himself out of step with some Scottish Labour colleagues by coming out against drilling in the controversial Cambo oil field.

He said: “I don’t think we should be taking more oil out if we can possibly help it, I don’t think we should be opening the Cambo field.

“At some point and therefore we’re going have to transition away from oil but the only way we can do that is if governments make the right choices. At the moment we’re going into COP26 in Glasgow saying let’s drill for more oil but let’s not fund interconnectors to get the renewable energy from the Scottish islands.”

Murray played up Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s role as a UK figure on a par with Labour city mayors Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan.

He said: “Anas is a national figure who can help Labour deliver nationally as a credible alternative to the Tories that isn’t about ripping the country apart.”

Murray added: “But the bold message to Scots, and a very similar thing happened in Canada after the Quebec referendum, is that if Scottish voters want rid of the Tories they have to re-engage with UK politics. Because they could elect 59 SNP MPs and it will not change the political map of the United Kingdom, it will just keep us on this grievance agenda.”

“So Scottish voters have to decide. If they wish to change the colour of the government at Westminster, they have to participate in that.”

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