Compromise, pacts and oppositionalism: the winners and losers from Holyrood 2007


By G.A.Ponsonby

There’s a planned come-back tomorrow.  We are told that Iain Gray’s Scottish Labour party are to re-launch their campaign.

In a truly radical move Labour’s tartan army have declared that they will, henceforth, be targeting Alex Salmond, independence and the SNP’s LIT policy as they desperately try to combat what appears to be an increasing SNP popularity.

Is it just me or have Labour simply announced that they intend to change one brand of negativity for another?

In 2007 immediately after the SNP’s shock win many commentators believed that the nationalists would find government difficult.  Outnumbered and with no experience of power these one trick ponies were supposed to collapse within a year.

But they didn’t.  Alex Salmond and his team defied the odds to see out their full term in office.  The four years have seen the SNP mature from a party of protest into a party of government.  Recent polls suggest the well-earned responsible image and a positive campaign message are chiming with the electorate.

However, what of the opposition?  There is no doubt that devolution saved the Tories in Scotland.  All but eradicated from Scotland’s Westminster landscape Annabel Goldie’s group have grabbed the Holyrood lifeline and adapted well to the environment of negotiation and compromise.

Yes, along with Labour and the LibDems the Tories forced through the Edinburgh trams and sought to politicise the Megrahi affair, but that notwithstanding, the Scottish Conservatives can look back on their four years with honest satisfaction.

Goldie’s party won’t set the heather on fire but the strength of her leadership coupled with the concessions they have undoubtedly squeezed from the SNP will ensure the real ‘Tartan Tories’ will hold on to their modest Holyrood contingent.

The other ‘minor’ party, the Lib Dems, must wish they could turn back the clock.  For Tavish Scott’s party this has been a tale of two pacts – and they chose the suicide one.

In 2007 an opportunity was presented to Mr Scott’s predecessor Nicol Stephen.  A place in government with the SNP together with the chance to see LibDem policies implemented, many already shared with the nationalists, beckoned.  A continuation of the high profile they enjoyed as mini partners with the previous Labour administration should have been a no brainer.

However Nicol Stephen contrived to find a barrier to any partnership – democracy.  The SNP’s desire to hold a democratic referendum on independence was at odds with the Liberal Democrat’s desire … not to, and the New Labour mini-me party was born.

When Stephen stood in parliament and all but accused the SNP government of corruption over the Donald Trump development, he ended any chance his small group of MSPs had of participating in cabinet.  Stephen ended his term as party leader when he resigned to spend more time with his family.

However the man who smelled Trump sleaze sacrificed some of this precious family time when he smelled the red leather and tax free expenses of the House of Lords.  Lord Stephen left a party seemingly lost and directionless.  His replacement Tavish Scott stepped up to the plate and carried on in much the same vein, albeit angrier.

The die was cast when Nicol Stephen spurned the chance of an SNP coalition.  Nick Clegg’s partnership with the Tories will simply accelerate the Lib Dems’ Scottish demise.

But the Tories and the Lib Dems are mere bit players in the theatre of Scottish politics.  The real soap opera is the way that Labour have handled, or to be more precise mishandled, the role of opposition.

Jack McConnell was left paralysed in 2007 by his narrow loss to Alex Salmond.  McConnell was the first Labour leader to taste defeat at the hands of the nationalists and it was a bitter pill to swallow.

If the new SNP administration hit the ground running then Labour hit the ground moaning, they could not accept they had lost.  A feeling of change was in the air and McConnell’s group were stagnant.

When Wendy Alexander replaced McConnell as leader of the Labour group any thoughts of a new approach by the party who had dominated Scottish politics for fifty years were dispelled when Wendy coined the ‘broken promises’ catchphrase, and it would be Labour’s mantra for the remaining three and a half years.

The first debate introduced by Labour under Alexander’s leadership was called Broken Promises.  The opening speech that day in October 2007 was delivered not by Ms Alexander but by a little known Labour understudy called Iain Gray.

Alexander was dreadful as leader, remembered for her ‘bring it on’ gaffe that had colleagues looking left and right wondering how to respond to their leader’s rush of blood.  On another occasion she inexplicably declined to ask Alex Salmond a final question at FMQs.

In June 2008 Alexander quit as leader after someone in her own party leaked information regarding an illegal donation to her campaign fund.

By the time a new leader was in place the Holyrood Labour group had perfected the art of obstruction.  Iain Gray’s period as leader was marked by an ass like stubbornness that required him to oppose almost anything proposed by the SNP.  The final budget this year was a testament to Labour’s mindset when they opposed some of the very policies they themselves were advocating.

Minimum pricing, the budget, climate change targets and calls for a fuel duty regulator were all opposed or ignored by a Labour group who claimed that they were either untested, illegal or didn’t go far enough.

In 2009 Labour had a near heart attack after their kneejerk opposition to anything put forward by the SNP was matched by the Greens and the Scottish budget was voted down.  One week later with their bluff called, Iain Gray’s group endorsed the same plans they had previously blocked.

It’s left the party in the unenviable position of being unable to claim credit for many of the good things introduced by the Scottish government.  Their election campaign has faltered badly as the vitriolic and negative rants that became the trademark Iain Gray have filtered through and infested campaign messages.

They have now rather belatedly realised that Scotland has moved on from the Thatcher years and Scottish voters know the difference between Cameron’s dangerous Tories and cuddly Aunty Annabel, devolution means that the Tories carry no threat in this election.

Labour has hobbled itself with some of the worst examples of oppositionalism witnessed at Holyrood.  Tomorrow isn’t so much a campaign re-launch as a resurrection of a dead manifesto, and like the villagers in the Frankenstein movie, the electorate will see the bolts as it staggers towards them.