by Hazel Lewry
Labour in Scotland are reportedly about to throw everything into a last gasp, ten day window re-launch of their fatally flawed Holyrood election campaign.
Monday will see a Glasgow gamble, as they retreat to their west of Scotland fortress, make a final attempt to ‘rally the troops’ and cut the Nationalists’ perceived lead. What is of greatest interest is what’s led up to the increasingly hyped Labour re-launch.
A campaign based upon fear launched on a day dedicated to rebirth and promise, how ironic.
Ironic that Scots will now get to choose between Gray fear and golden yellow promise.
Fear from Labour that the policies of hatred and obstructionism over the last four years of opposition may be insufficient to permit their oft ennobled hierarchy to retain their positions.
Fear by Labour that the polls might be right.
Fear that the Labour Party may have been rumbled by the electorate for blatant policy theft.
Fear that the general public may no longer be prepared to stand back and watch what few fail to see as a Gray area, leadership “cowardice” – a simple refusal to engage the voters. Not the act of a general at all.
So now with the aid of friends in the media Labour will try once again to convince the Scots to live in fear. They will step up attacks on the Nationalists’ desire for independence and their alleged secrecy over local income tax plans as the Holyrood election moves closer, but fear is their only weapon, and the only thing the Scots have to fear is fear itself.
Independence is the SNP reason d’être, it’s on the website, in the manifesto, but the Nationalists have simply argued for a referendum and will follow the express will of the people. Labour think the people are not worthy of an opinion, they oppose a referendum. LIT – that’s into the long grass for this electoral cycle, a dead issue absent cross party consensus which remains very unlikely with Labour in Scotland.
Iain Gray is also expected to lead more personal attacks on Mr. Salmond after internal focus groups reportedly told Labour these are the vulnerable areas for the Nationalists. Again it’s based on fear, hatred and attack, fundamentally different from the Nationalists’ message of hope, renewal, faith and a bright future.
As the New Labour fear campaign swings into full force expect to hear much more of the old ‘arc of insolvency’ claims, “Bankrupt nations of Iceland and Ireland”, they won’t add “United Kingdom” to that, bad form there, or talk of the UK regulations that destroyed the so-called Scottish banks.
A campaign of fear based upon fear will only get the cowards vote to swing to Labour, the SNP should perhaps have one final leaflet drive to re-enforce that concept. Parallel Norway, Canada and others while demonstrating who really controlled the banks. Scots in their history have often demonstrated the C word, but it’s “canny” not “coward” that’s applied. Cowardice in face of a last ditch scrabble to grab a toehold of power is not a legacy the Scots electorate should be known for after this election.
One thing, and one alone could possibly save Labour in Scotland, and that’s to be become Labour in Scotland, divorce from London and be Scottish. Sadly the days when such could be considered are the best part of a century behind us, though if the polls are correct and May 5th gives the results predicted, with a raft of new Labour blood amid the departure of the old, perhaps the thought might not be so alien for so much longer.
This fear is endemic within the Labour party as they smell near annihilation in the constituencies, even up to the ministerial level. A ministerial level parliamentary wipeout for the Labour party in Scotland must be avoided and fear, it seems, is to be the weapon of choice.
This wipeout in potential is a question on the lips of many, and perhaps Ed Milliband’s worst possible nightmare to date in the short term of his leadership.
On the other side in the SNP camp they are well aware through decades of heartache and “oh so close” results where the tide has ebbed and flowed, that everything remains in play, the game of politics continues and anything can happen between now and May 5th at 10pm. Consolidate, advance, field thrust, parry and repeat must be the name of the Nationalist game.
A big advantage perhaps for Alex and Nicola is that now many Unionists know a vote for them doesn’t mean an automatic vote for independence, or fear of it – there should still be a referendum to determine Scotland’s settled path. With that fear gone they’re now free to vote their conscience.
We’re seeing this fear escalate rapidly inside the Labour camp with continuing fundamental changes in voter intention over the last 90 days.
The fear is real, it is palpable, it is Labour in Scotland.
Fear is the only hope to salvage at least some of the shadow ministerial jobs below.
Leader: Iain Gray, East Lothian, no list placing. Labour’s leader was enjoying about a 6.7% lead from ‘07, however with a probable 10% swing by election day moderated perhaps 2% by being an incumbent party leader and substantial resources being used to save face for Labour it’s very close. However with the Lib-Dem collapse and previous high Lib-Dem presence in the constituency reported to be breaking mostly for the SNP after Mr Grays’ multiple gaffes, Iain Gray appears set to be the leader of the newly departing group of MSPs after the election. Without the list backup, Iain Gray is potentially out.
Deputy Leader: Johann Lamont, Glasgow Pollock, no list placing. Even without a list seat option, and against a strong SNP challenger in the seat we can anticipate Johann Lamont being back at Holyrood, perhaps as Labour’s next de-facto leader, at least in the interim. If polls, activists and feedback are correct, she’ll be a dogged deputy only a short time longer before perhaps being elevated to Ed Milliband’s personal Scottish poodle.
Finance, Economy & Skills: Andy Kerr, East Kilbride, no list. With a 6.7% majority and no list backup, word and statistics both have it that Mr Kerr’s seat will fall. Mr. Kerr appears to have suffered most during the campaign from dismal appearances in which others were often required to make his points for him. A lack of hard data to back up his numbers, referring in one instance to having “read in a newspaper” the ‘facts’ upon which he was basing national policy. A loss here may be in Labour’s best future interest. Perhaps Labour’s finances will improve as Mr Kerr leaves to take his skills elsewhere, though we suspect it won’t be in the private sector.
Health & Wellbeing: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, no list. Ms Baillie is clinging to a mere 5.3% (adjusted) lead, and looking at a potential drop in support of between 7% and 11% in the seat, driven by general voter dissatisfaction with her party. This quite possibly enhanced by her personal, largely ineffective efforts in opposition as a shadow health minister. Her less than popular position against a raft of acclaimed measures by Nicola Sturgeon is likely ready to inflict wounds no amount of emergency care at the Vale can adequately deal with.
Justice: Richard Baker, No constituency, NE Scotland list, 1st. Expect the shadow justice secretary to return under the list system and be a contender with Johann Lamont for the party leadership in the early summer. To many, the fact this incumbent has little to fear from the scales of justice at the hands of Scotland’s parliamentary system may represent an imbalance in itself.
Rural Affairs and Environment: Sarah Boyack, Edinburgh Central, Lothian List 1st. Ms Boyack has the great good fortune to expect a return through the List system where she’s the prime pick of the Lothian red rose. It is fortunate this back up was in place as statistics say the people of Edinburgh may not be quite so certain about returning her as a constituency MSP. It’s interesting to note she’s one of the few from Labour on both candidacy fronts almost ensuring her environment after May 5th will remain within the chambers of Holyrood, thereby keeping her from a new more rural setting.
Culture and the Constitution: Pauline McNeill: Glasgow Kelvin, no list. This appears to be a major error on the part of the Lords of Labour (they lost the titular Commissars of Convention well before the Blair era) in that a sitting MSP with a tiny majority, almost the slimmest in the Labour Lordships’ Glasgow Fiefdom was not at least rewarded with a back up opportunity to re-enter Holyrood. Perhaps there slightly too many other promised accommodations jousting for pole position on the Lists. One hopes the slight was not intentional. All indications are that if the constitution works as expected then this seat will fall, perhaps to kindle a new cultural era in Glasgow Kelvin.
Transport & Infrastructure: Charlie Gordon: Glasgow Cathcart, no list. This one of Glasgow’s safer seats where Labour is almost part and parcel of the infrastructure, it should return Charlie Gordon for another term in Holyrood, although with what’s projected to be very significantly reduced majority. Mr Gordon can continue to expect transport from his constituency to Holyrood to be a little quicker than the implementation of Labour’s Glasgow Airport rail link, especially with some of the land reportedly sold. [Note to Labour party manifesto – another one to check].
Education: Des McNulty, Clydebank, no list. And no parachute, so where does that place Des McNulty? With the boundary changes giving Mr McNulty a comfortable 10+% lead he should still be able to anticipate a soft landing in May. Sadly for Des the combination of activist feedback, resource targeting and poll swings suggest that with a little additional voter enlightenment in the seat, there could be a very sudden and surprising landing in store for one of Labour’s more battle hardened campaigners. The educated amongst us could think Mr McNulty just might, and I stress might, have the ability to hold on.
Local Government: Michael McMahon Hamilton North & Bellshill, no list. Perhaps we should simply take note he’s one of the potentially safer areas for Labour and expect him to be at the forefront of a re-constituted and re-directed government opposition for the remainder of 2011.
Election & Campaigns: John Park: Constituency, None, List, Mid Scotland/Fife, 1st. With John Park at the forefront of the Mid-Scotland and Fife List, he should be retuning for another session, though under what portfolio one can only guess?
Parliamentary Business Manager and Chief of Staff: Paul Martin: Glasgow Springburn, no list. Paul Martin isn’t yet looking to be in need of updating his resume, unless of course the undecideds break almost entirely to the Nationalists in his constituency, something Alex Salmond may well hope for. Here at least the Nationalists are possibly looking more towards breaking the cycle of Labour returned candidates for the future. In the interim will his position of business manager be secure after the poll projected upcoming debacle?
Schools: Ken McIntosh: Eastwood, no list. Mr McIntosh is defending an 11% nominal lead after the boundary changes are factored in, there’s a projected 10% swing in the offing and an estimated 1,500 Lib-Dem votes up for grabs the seat goes where the disaffected and disenchanted format Democrats decide. A scholarly poke in the dark says the seat will likely remain Labour but it’s now got to be considered ripe for future loss to a well educated and informed candidate.
Community Safety: James Kelly: Glasgow Rutherglen, no list. Mr Kelly should return to Holyrood for the late spring, possibly to be instrumental as part of a new more dynamic opposition, re-dedicated to working for Scotland’s best interests and welfare after putting a leadership election behind them. Then again maybe not. Either way we should anticipate the Rutherglen community to safely return him.
Children and Early Years: Karen Whitefield: Airdrie & Shotts, no list. Perhaps amongst the most precariously placed of the Labour inner circle, and apparently poised to follow her current party leader to the political abyss. Ms Whitefield’s lack of a list seat to contain collateral damage for Labour most likely means another bloody nose for the Reds (perhaps they should be pink or light blue these days?) in the central belt. Even a child in their early years might look for a change of hands here.
Energy, Enterprise & Tourism: Lewis Macdonald: Aberdeen Central, List NE Scotland 3. Lewis MacDonald could appear to be on a knife edge as the third constituency seat in the NE Scotland region with what appears to be a Lib Dem constituency seat elimination in the offing, more Lib Dems will be looking to collect list seats in the region spelling potential trouble for Labour’s shadow Energy minister. It will certainly take energy and enterprise in the region from Labour’s activists as they tour the area to garner support.
Environment: Elaine Murray, Dumfries, S. Scotland list 1st. Being first on the South Scotland list Ms Murray is one of apparently very few Labour shadow ministers who can look forward to returning to Holyrood to pick up at least where she left off, just in an environment projected to be substantially changed.
Climate Change: Cathy Peattie: Falkirk East, no list. Subsequent to the boundary changes and 2007 results Ms. Peattie is defending a personal cushion of a little less than 7%. Applying national swings absent skullduggery to this seat, it appears to ready to change hands. The winds of change appear to be blowing, with voters globally warming to the opportunity for a different Scottish path in Falkirk East. Without a back-up in the wings for a placement under the list system Ms Peattie’s time as an MSP appears to be approaching a mini ice age.
Housing: Mary Mulligan: Linlithgow, no list. One would imagine wanting to place any MSP valued by a party on the list system especially with that candidate defending a majority notably under 1%. Failure to make such a move either speaks to utter complacency and political arrogance or a wish to simply be rid of the incumbent if the seat fails, more so the former as Mary Mulligan was Labour’s anointed heir to Housing, but is instead appearing needful of a new residence herself in Alex Salmond’s constituency of birth.
Finance, Sustainable Growth and Skills: David Whitton: Strathkelvin, no list. David Whitton should be a safe candidate to be returned, but with unprecedented changes apparently in the offing and news from activists being positive on both sides this one isn’t the “done deal” it certainly should be for Labour. They should still scrape in, though with near empty coffers, if they can sustain throwing enough money and skill at Strathkelvin. No matter the resources or skills applied Labour are still likely to see little growth here.
Sport: Bill Butler: Glasgow Anniesland, no list. Anything other than a Labour return here would shake even the London party to its roots. Time will tell but for 2011 this square should not expect to change colour. It’s not looking like the good people of Anniesland are prepared to give any opposition a real sporting chance in 2011.
Further and Higher Education: Claire Baker: Constituency none, List Mid-Scotland and Fife 2. That Labour would not get at least two list seats in Mid-Scotland and Fife is a situation that still remains largely unthinkable for this electoral cycle. Expect Claire Baker to return to Holyrood and further educate the potentially decreasing cadre of Labour MSPs, hopefully towards the higher goal of constructive opposition.
Public Health: Richard Simpson: Constituency none, Mid-Scotland and Fife list 3. With a collapse in Constituency returns a number 3 list position on the party preference is a less distinct possibility for Labour in Mid-Scotland and Fife. It can’t be counted on as an almost automatic guarantee as in years past however, with several stronger smaller parties also vying for list positions. Mr. Simpson’s opportunity shadowing public health could be described as anemic, but with hopes of a last minute transfusion.
Rural Development, Economy and Skills: Karen Gillon: Constituency, Clydesdale, List, none. Defending a 3.7% projected balance on an almost guaranteed swing exceeding 6% is not good mathematics for someone in charge of Economy and Skills. Anticipate Ms Gillon to be working hard at putting some polish to other skill-sets over the next several weeks as she economizes without benefit of an MSP’s salary en route to developing a new plan in a more personally rural environment. This is in the absence of a list seat to act as her personal saviour this Easter weekend.
Chief Whip: David Stewart Highlands and Islands, list 2. It should be unthinkable that Labour fails to collect two list MSPs from the Highlands and Islands, especially with the probable collapse of the Lib-Dem vote and the subsequent rise in SNP poll share. Anticipate that Mr Stewart will not spare the rod as he beats a hasty path back to Holyrood.
Whip: Cathy Craigie, Cumbernauld, no list. Cathy Cragie is defending what would normally be a very safe 7% or so cushion which should reasonably see her through a normal few cycles of electoral attrition. It would appear this is not to be a normal electoral cycle. Ms. Cragie may well be a typical example of one whose absence on the depleted opposition benches will be a significant factor in David Cameron abandoning the atrocity known as the Scotland Bill and potentially being required to revisit the entire workings of the Union. If the Union opposition can’t whip up enough votes to obstruct democracy in Holyrood there should be a requirement to change the position on Scotland’s issues in Westminster.
Whip: Rhoda Grant, Constituency, None Highlands and Islands List 1st. With pole position on the Highlands and Islands Labour list it is inconceivable that Rhoda Grant would not be back at Holyrood. That should return two of Labour’s three Whips to the capital, but in view of trending public opinion and the dramatically lower number of potential Labour MSPs, one must wonder if they will be slightly under-employed? Rhoda Grant is an example of the whipping post made of the parliamentary system, whereby the party tells us who is first placed on any list. No offense to Ms Grant but the people should choose, not the party, otherwise we chance a robot voting party lines rather than a thinking individual serving Scotland. But then that just might have been Westminster’s intention.