by A. Reader
Evidence that Labour is becoming a toxic brand comes from the number of high profile personalities, former Labour supporters and party members who are queueing up to endorse the SNP, Alex Salmond or individual SNP candidates.
Brian Cox, film star and one-time voice of Labour’s election broadcasts has endorsed the SNP and Alex Salmond over education funding. Iain Banks the novelist states that he is not a member of the SNP but that Alex Salmond offers Scotland community-based policies that New Labour have ceased to care about. Ex-Labour MP Denis Canavan endorses the SNP candidate for his old seat of Falkirk West. Phyllis Herriot former Lothian Labour council group leader who quit Labour over Iraq is backing Kenny MacAskill for Edinburgh East. Labour’s hopes of picking up the bulk of disgruntled Liberal Democrat voters has been dimmed by retiring MSP John Farquhar Munro publicly backing Alex Salmond for First Minister in preference to his own Tavish Scott.
Labour’s biggest handicap though is the public perception of Iain Gray himself. Recently described by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University as being “little known and not much liked”, Gray has been caught on camera running in panic from a small group of protesters at Glasgow’s Central Station. STV’s Jamie Livingston dubbed this a PR nightmare and a prime example of how not to handle protesters.
The first televised Leaders’ Debate, broadcast by STV on 29th March, highlighted Gray’s difficulty in putting himself across favourably to the electorate. The confrontational, angry and aggressive Gray was considered to have won the debate by only 5 per cent of the viewers polled, with a staggering 74 per cent saying that their perception of the Labour leader had changed negatively as a result of watching the debate. Alex Salmond is way out in the lead in terms of voter recognition and popularity throughout Scotland. It is a major concern for Labour that their leader is less well known and less popular than the Conservatives’ Annabel Goldie. The latest ICM poll tells us that only 23 per cent of voters who supported Labour at last year’s general election are now backing Gray, compared to 38 per cent who think that Alex Salmond is the better choice.
In Westminster, Labour MPs are also reported as being dissatisfied with Gray’s performance. Gray is supposed to deliver a resounding victory for Labour at Holyrood, not for the sake of giving good government to Scotland, but to create some much needed confidence in Ed Miliband’s leadership. Remember “Ed gets Scotland”? Ed told the Scottish Labour conference that Labour should use this election to give them the best chance of stopping the ConDem government going to its full five year term. As Gray is looking less and less likely to deliver Scotland gift wrapped to his master in London, the only thing Ed “gets” about Scotland is that if Labour fail here, they are in serious trouble throughout the UK.
What London Labour will not admit to is their own contribution to Labour’s decline in credibility in Scotland. Vote for us to save you from the Tories, they confidently promised before the 2010 election. Afterwards, when offered the opportunity to do just that by Liberal Democrat leaders who were justifiably nervous of a coalition with the Conservatives, it was widely reported that the Labour negotiating team, which included Ed Miliband, gave every impression of wanting the negotiations to fail. Douglas Alexander said that Labour could not work with the SNP, John Reid chose to appease voters in England and David Blunkett preferred opposition. This betrayal of Scottish voters has not gone unnoticed by the better informed amongst the electorate.
Poor in opposition, way out of his depth in campaigning against Salmond, his own front bench outclassed in every department by that of the SNP, handicapped by London and yet expected to deliver, the hapless Gray has another four weeks of humiliation and misery to look forward to. With a hostile government in Westminster to contend with, should Gray succeed in pulling off the increasingly unlikely result demanded of him, his troubles may be only just beginning. It may be his worst nightmare, as well as mine, that he might wake up with the keys to Bute House on 6th May. But don’t worry Iain, if that should come to pass, Ed will make sure Scotland ‘gets’ someone else.