In 2015, long before we’d ever heard of the “red wall”, Labour was wiped out in Scotland. Losing my seat in Glasgow East and then watching my colleagues and their staff lose their jobs was heart-breaking. For a few weeks before, we knew what was coming. Perhaps we didn’t know the extent, but I couldn’t see how I would be returning to Westminster.
As Shadow Scottish Secretary at the time, I remember having a frank conversation with Ed Miliband six days before the election. He was in Glasgow for his final stop in Scotland on the campaign trail and we had dinner after a rally in Tollcross. It still looked possible that Labour could form a government, but even if we did, I wouldn’t be part of it. I told him there was only one person he should consider putting into the cabinet as Secretary of State for Scotland – Ian Murray.
Ian and I had arrived at Westminster together in 2010. While this was Ian’s first step into national politics, for me it followed 11 years in the Scottish Parliament and time in the Scottish cabinet. It was clear from the outset that he would be one of the stars of the 2010 intake. That’s why when he put himself forward a few weeks ago to be deputy leader, I didn’t think twice about supporting him.
It’s not just that Ian has the qualities that the deputy leader of the Labour Party needs. It’s also because he’s bringing the voice and experience of the Scottish Labour Party to the debate. After the election in December, it felt like the UK Party immediately started discussing how to regain constituencies in the North of England. But we still haven’t resolved the question of how we regain the seats we lost in Scotland in 2015.
In both Scotland and across the country, the Labour Party needs to get to grips with the effects that populism and nationalism has had on our politics, and work out how to respond to that. Ian is already ahead of the game, having defeated two waves of nationalism that wiped out all of his Scottish Labour colleagues.
Since Ian joined the debate, every leadership and deputy leadership candidate has had to face questions on Scotland – what went wrong, how we reform and how we can win again. If Ian hadn’t been in the race, there is no way these discussions would have been happening.
And they need to happen. Labour can’t win a majority at the next election without Scottish seats. That’s a fact. At the next election, if Ian is the only Scottish Labour MP, Labour will need to win 124 seats just to have a majority of one. That would mean Jacob Rees-Mogg’s seat in North East Somerset turning to Labour.
There isn’t a more crucial time to have a Scottish voice in the leadership debate and a Scot playing a leading role at the top of the UK Labour Party. That’s why Ian must get the support from local parties to stay in this race until the very end. For those in Scottish CLPs, the appeal is obvious, but for those of you in England and Wales: think about the message it would send if our only Scottish MP fell out of the race before the end. Consider what the SNP will say if most Scottish CLPs back him but he drops out because more well-known names in England pull through.
Let’s not give them that opportunity. Let’s show them that we really mean it when we say that the Labour Party must represent all parts of our UK. The whole Labour Party across the country needs to show that it understands we need to win Scotland back if we’re to regain power. And the way to do that is to put a Scot on the ballot paper who has beaten the odds time and time again to win. The way to do it is to back Ian Murray.