Iain Gray under pressure as voters blame Labour for deepening crisis

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by Alex Porter, Economy Editor

Results of a shocking new survey conducted by YouGov show that 5 percent of people in Scotland – equivalent to 207,500 card-holders – have used credit cards to pay their mortgage or rent in the last 12 months.

The findings (1) are extremely worrying according to Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity which commissioned the survey:

“A reliance on high interest options such as credit cards to pay rent or a mortgage is a highly dangerous route to go down and is known to contribute toward uncontrolled debt, repossession or eviction and, eventually, homelessness.

“It is also very worrying that thousands of people in Scotland are being forced to move in with family or friends and that many more are having to take on extra hours and/or a second job just to make ends meet.”

The survey results coincide with YouGov tracker evidence which shows Labour are blamed by the electorate for the parlous state of Britain’s public finances.

The UK-wide survey (2) asked who people thought were “most to blame for the current spending cuts.” Of the respondents 22 percent thought the ConDem coalition government were culpable, 40 percent the last Labour government and 25 percent pinned the blame on both the present and previous governments equally.

These consistent findings will deeply concern the leader of the Labour group at Holyrood as he seeks to lead his party to victory over the sitting SNP government at the Scottish elections on May 5th.

Economic Competence

With UK government borrowing hitting £23.3bn per month according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and seemingly now out of control, the electorate are increasingly concerned about job prospects and family budgets. Electorally the issue of economic competence will be the decisive factor in the choice of who will form the next government in Edinburgh.

Across the UK the economic outlook is extremely pessimistic according to YouGov. Asked, “How worried are you that people like you will not have enough money to live comfortably” over the next two to three years, 70 percent of respondents replied that they were “fairly” or “very” worried.

During the political campaign the principal contenders will have to explain to the electorate how their party will best insulate Scotland against the worst effects of the UK’s sovereign debt, currency and financial crises.

Holyrood’s leading contender Iain Gray will have the unenviable task of defending the Scotland Bill which on Tuesday was slated by world-renowned economists and academics as a “perfect storm”. The economists fear it could damage and trap the Scottish economy with a too narrow spread of tax powers at a time of prolonged austerity and economic volatility. The warnings about the Scotland Bill are the latest in a growing list of anxieties expressed by experts over the Bill, characterising it as “dangerously flawed” and “unworkable”.

Former economist and current first minister Alex Salmond has by contrast the luxury of advancing the case of economic independence which enjoys popular support in Scotland, as reflected in the recent Social Attitudes Survey 2010 which showed 57 percent of Scots wanting the Scottish parliament to have full tax powers with 62 percent wanting the Scottish parliament to fully control benefit payments.

Leadership Popularity

As though these problems were not enough for Iain Gray, his popularity rating of 24 percent in a YouGov poll back in October lags some way behind Scotland’s First Minister with a 42 percent rating.

Some recent attempts by Gray to close this gap in the leadership popularity contest have backfired. This will have raised concerns for many of his MSPs fighting in two-way marginal constituency contests. His most recent gaffe caused diplomatic anger. In an attempt to associate recent Balkan problems with Scottish independence, Gray offended Montenegrins by wrongly claiming that their country was involved in ethnic cleansing and a war-crimes tribunal. In fact the country is proud that it stayed out of the Balkan conflicts.

The good reputation and standing of Scotland internationally is a core responsibility in a first minister’s job specification. On Newsnight Scotland this week Gray was given the opportunity to express his regret at the insult but refused:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MobVbuOmlo8{/youtube}

Scottish Elections

As YouGov trackers are showing a sharp increase in people believing Westminster cuts are having an impact on their lives, up to 72 percent from 62 percent in December, Iain Gray will need to find a way to deflect blame for Labour’s role in the UK debt crisis onto ConDem austerity cuts. The Scottish electorate will need to be convinced that Labour can protect Scotland from the UK’s troubles despite the widely held belief that Labour caused those problems in the first place.

With popular backing for the SNP’s economic prospectus and its leader, SNP strategists will believe that by keeping the pressure on Iain Gray the election will swing their way during the campaign. To find a winning formula Iain Gray will have to do more than attack his opponents. Scottish voters are tired of petty party bickering and will demand comprehensive solutions to deepening economic problems.

The alarm has been sounded by Shelter Scotland’s Graeme Brown:

“As we brace ourselves for the full impact of savage cuts to jobs and housing benefits, we are very concerned that more people are going to face even greater debt and the threat of homelessness.”

Whichever party provides the most compelling economic solutions and treats the voters with the respect they deserve will be entrusted with the reins of power come election day.

Notes:
1. Press release from SHELTER

2. Yougov poll