The election so far: a balanced opinion


by Matt Brown

The Scottish elections are drawing ever closer.  With less than two weeks to go before we discover who will be leading the country for the next five years, the campaigns are running full pelt.  By this stage, most likely you will have made a decision on who you think should be moving to Bute House on May 6th, but the parties are still beating feet on the old election trail.

Much has been made of Labour’s Iain Gray, with a great deal of criticism being aimed at his perceived weakness of personality and doubts over whether or not he has the strength to stand up to Cameron and Co in Westminster.  Indeed, the Labour party as a whole have faced a great deal of distaste toward their primarily negative policies and manifesto.  Labour, it seems, are a party that are heavily invested in forecasting inevitable doom and gloom.

In a time of sweeping budget cuts, increased VAT and rising fuel costs, it can be difficult to be positive but Labour’s key messages have focused on what is wrong with the country rather than what they can do to fix it.

Having grown up and lived in a Labour heartland almost my entire life, I think I have a fairly grounded opinion of the party as it stands today.  It would be foolish and wrong to write off Labour because of the mistakes that were made at Westminster.  A lot of good was achieved during their time in office, not least of which was overseeing the creation of the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.  The party brought in the minimum wage, guaranteed paternity leave of up to two weeks and did a lot to support the NHS.  They are not the ‘big bad’ that they are sometimes portrayed to be.  In fact, it can genuinely be frustrating to watch a party that is responsible for so many good things, and home to many great politicians, flounder so badly.

Sadly, their handling of the economy at national level as well as their lack of achievement within Scotland point to a party that is drained of ideas and enthusiasm.

The SNP, on the other hand, have focused on the positives and have been rewarded with a renewed momentum in their poll showings.  Alex Salmond has continually proven to be the electorate’s choice for First Minister but up until the dissolution of parliament, the SNP had been trailing behind Labour.  Inevitably, after four years in power, the party needed to kick it up a gear to energise voters and since their ‘Re-Elect’ manifesto was launched, they certainly seemed to have achieved that to some degree.

Of course, as is often the way in politics, the SNP may find that their reach outstretched their grasp on reality.  The controversy surrounding their promise to freeze Council Tax for the entirety of the next parliament is just one example of this.  Their pledge to protect public sector jobs is another.  While laudable, as well as theoretically possible, the economy is still tender and the SNP may well find these election promises to be a fiscal millstone around their neck in the years to come.

But the polls seem to suggest that SNP have the voters’ support.  In an IPSOS Mori poll released this week, the nationalists have whipped past Labour to a potential seat count of 61(+14 on 2007).  Coming from behind a mere month ago, this new figure shows a remarkable turnaround in their campaign, even from an objective standpoint.  The Labour vote has held up, despite their sometimes shambolic campaign, with a projected 44 seats (-2).  Unsuprisingly, the biggest losers are the Lib Dems, down to 7 seats (-9).

The idea of objectivity brings me on to my final point.  Most voters know by now that the media does not usually report the news in an objective fashion, particularly when it comes to politics.  Some even come out in open support of their chosen party (see the Scottish Sun for more details).  However, our national broadcaster, the very cornerstone of our media, the BBC has faced increasing scrutiny throughout this campaign.  The corporation’s purported passion for impartiality is being tested to its limits at the moment, with many important stories (including the aforementioned poll) being almost completely ignored.  Others have highlighted some skewed reporting techniques that have been showing up with alarming regularity, such as the tendency to quote Labour first and the SNP last on any given issue.

Now, simply listing one party’s opinion over another’s is not going to clinch the election, nor will the sudden preference for wearing red, but they are symptoms of a wider bias that sadly exists within the BBC.  One only needs to look toward Brian Taylor’s blog for evidence of wide-ranging discontent with Aunty and their political coverage.  Replies are routinely filtered for certain buzz-words and eliminated, often for simply voicing a dissenting opinion.  This is a dangerous mind-set but by no means a new occurrence.  The BBC has regularly been accused of left-leaning bias, and as out-dated as that principle may be, in this election it leads to Labour’s gain.

But polls, personality and bias are all meaningless next to the vote itself.  On May 6th, Alex Salmond or Iain Gray will be taking up residence in Bute House and will be in charge of Scottish affairs for the next five years.  All we can do is hope that whoever wins has Scotland’s best interests at heart and, as cynical as it may sound, doesn’t use the Scottish parliament as a soapbox against David Cameron.