Scottish Labour leadership: How many candidates make an array?

Brian Taylor
Political editor, Scotland

image copyrightPA
image captionAnas Sarwar said he expected "an array of candidates" to step forward to replace Johann Lamont

Have you ever seen the movie, The Three Amigos?

It is an established favourite with our family, blending droll lines with slapstick.

In one scene, the Mexican bandit, a quasi-intellectual called El Guapo, is promised presents for his birthday by his sidekick. There will be, the boss is assured, a "plethora of presents".

El Guapo is not impressed.

He interrogates his comrade as to the precise numerical value of a "plethora". (OK, it sounds more like a maths tutorial than a comedy - but give it a go.)

I thought of this when I heard Anas Sarwar interviewed on GMS by the estimable Gary Robertson.

Mr Sarwar, the acting leader of Scottish Labour, said he expected an "array" of candidates to come forward, eager to replace Johann Lamont.

El Guapo-like, Gary pounced.

Define an "array", he said. How many would comprise a decent, average, workaday array in pounds Scots?

It was a perfectly reasonable question and Mr Sarwar obfuscated like an expert.

Candidates lacking

There was confident talk of the future. Somewhat unwisely, he attempted at one point to divert the attack onto the SNP for their "coronation" of Nicola Sturgeon.

But he swiftly regrouped. This is no time for diversionary tactics.

One feels for Mr Sarwar in these circumstances.

Using Ms Lamont's job description, the advert for Scottish Labour leader would be: "Wanted, branch manager.

"Your colleagues are dinosaurs and every decision you take will be overturned."

image captionMSP Sarah Boyack has announced she will run for the Scottish Labour leadership

Tricky material, then, for her deputy to handle. Not helped by the palpable absence thus far of an array or indeed plethora.

But now we have a name. Sarah Boyack MSP says she fancies the job.

Ms Boyack is a serious, thoughtful politician, a former minister, with notable credentials on green issues.

Will there be others?

There will. Jim Murphy MP is still giving the matter serious consideration before announcing his name.

Would two constitute an array?


One can understand Jim Murphy's hesitation.

He would be giving up a place in the UK shadow cabinet - albeit one that is rather below the pitch he previously occupied. Although, of course, as Scottish leader, he would presumably be entitled to attend the meetings.

Would he be giving up a cabinet place next year?

That depends upon whether you believe Labour will win the UK general election, and whether Mr Murphy would thrive under Ed Miliband at Number 10.

Other questions. How does he finesse the fact that he would be an MP leading a party whose primary daily focus (see Lamont, J) is Holyrood?

He could cite the Alex Salmond precedent - but Mr Salmond had an MSP deputy. As things stand, Mr Murphy would not.

Furthermore, Mr Salmond had widespread support in his party and had been leader before.

Which brings us to another question. Could Mr Murphy, regarded as a Blairite moderniser, command the Scottish party?

If they were prepared to be biddable, yes.

image copyrightReuters
image captionJim Murphy has yet to announce that he is joining the race

They would be required to follow another Salmond precedent. He received sustained loyalty from his MSPs, partly from force of personality but largely from the objective they shared: independence.

Could Mr Murphy replicate that by appealing for loyalty in the run up to elections in 2015 and 2016?

Which brings on two more questions.

Would he win the leadership in the first place - when some say only an MSP will do and some want a figure on the left?

Secondly, if he won the leadership, would he win the post of first minister in 2016?

Umpteen imponderables, in other words, to provoke Mr Murphy to ponder.

Given that, it is understandable that there has been a certain delay.

In the long cycle of Scottish politics, in any case, it is but a blip.