Like him or loathe him (and I know plenty on the latter side of that) Jim Murphy has done a fairly
good decent job as Secretary of State for Scotland - from a political perspective at least.
No really. A number of commentators and academics had concerns about the informal nature of intergovernmental affairs between Westminster and Holyrood under the Lab-LD coalition. Decisions were taken on an "I know so and so from conference" basis, and toes were not stepped on when an issue was contentious (civil partnerships is probably the best example). With Labour in government at both levels, it was easy to see why they wished to avoid conflict - and the easiest way to do so was to avoid formal negotiations.
However, with the election of the SNP in 2007, the potential was there for more explosive relations. Indeed, most media outlets had the SNP pointedly fighting with Westminster over everything before they'd even set foot in Bute House. This proved unfounded. The SNP were keen to get intergovernmental relations back into the formal sphere, and tried to rebuild the Joint-Ministerial Council and British-Irish Council... albeit with some resistance from Westminster (and limited success).
Nevertheless, appointing Jim Murphy as Secretary of State for Scotland - and making the position full-time again - has been a successful move for the UK Government for several reasons. At a perception-only level, it has made it appear that Scotland is on the agenda and represented at Cabinet. More than that though, the position has acted as a buffer between the two governments - and more particularly, between the First Minister and the Prime Minister. Any time Alex Salmond has called for a meeting between governments, Gordon Brown has said "speak to Jim, he's responsible for Scotland". And that has worked - it has kept the First Minister as an unequal to the PM, on the same level as Jim Murphy. Crucially, it has allowed Gordon Brown to avoid entangling himself in every Scottish issue of the day.
But perhaps the best outcome for Labour in Scotland is that it has allowed a Scottish MP to regain some control over Labour's message in Scotland. Rather than leaving the leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament (LOLISP) to appear as a leader, Jim Murphy has, to all intents and purposes, assumed a leadership role - challenging the FM to debates, speaking at conferences alongside Iain Gray and generally getting quoted as the Labour spokesperson in Scotland. And, to a great degree, he has done so relatively successfully - keeping Alex Salmond at arms length from Westminster and acting as Salmond's equal.
Question is though, what happens after May? I mean, even though I expect Jim Murphy to survive a tough election (both the Tories and the SNP will be after him hard after finishing ahead of Labour there in the European election) Labour may not. In fact, I'd go as far to say I think the game is up - and we'll have a Tory Government with a majority of around 60 after the election. Which means a Tory Secretary of State for Scotland... and Jim Murphy out of his high profile role.
Granted, if that happens then Labour have bigger problems to deal with than losing Murphy as a spokesperson. But the real point is this - how will Iain Gray cope? If Labour are out of government at Westminster AND Holyrood, Iain Gray - being the higher elected official in Scottish Labour - will be the de facto Leader of Labour in Scotland.
What would that mean for Labour? And Labour MPs? What would their role be under a Tory Government and a leader who wouldn't sit in the same parliament? Would Jim Murphy continue to do the job as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland? Or would Iain Gray have to up his game?
I guess we wait...