Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reasons To Be Cheerful - 1, 2, 3, 4....

You can call me cynical if you like, but I think there's a big dollop of the herd mentality and perhaps a more than a little wishful thinking in the current received wisdom that Labour is somehow coasting to victory in next May's Scottish elections.

Jeff gives some interesting reasons from Sweden over at Better Nation as to why Labour's current position may not turn out to be the winning one that its own people and some allegedly disinterested commentators so clearly hope. However, there's more than a few reasons closer to home to suggest why this might also be the case. Never being one to miss a chance to stick my head above the parapet, here's just a few of them.

The first reason is the polls themselves. While Labour enjoys a lead right now over the SNP, there's good reason to doubt the weighting of some of the polls suggesting that this is so. However, even taking polls at face value, the SNP, astonishingly for a party in government, is still consistently polling higher than it was at this stage four years ago.

Admittedly, the SNP was still ahead of Labour at that stage. However, the fact remains that Labour's lead has not come at the expense of the SNP. In the aftermath of the Con Dem tie-up at Westminster and the nose-diving of the Lib Dems fortunes in the polls, it's pretty clear that Labour's present advantage has been built on taking support from those who no longer agree with Nick.

Given the First-Past-The-Post boundary changes and the volatility of the list system, it's tough to go on anything more than gut instinct unless you're prepared to don your anorak and make a forecast based on the individual ballot box results from the 2007 elections. However, if you assume a significant shift from Lib Dem to Labour, you have to imagine that seats held presently by the Lib Dems like Dunfermline West and Edinburgh South look likely to fall to Labour.

All other things being equal, that would put Labour one ahead of the SNP, assuming that Labour didn't go on to lose list seats in Mid Scotland and Lothian in consequence. However, with the changes in Aberdeen South to take in parts of Kincardineshire, you'd have to assume that the SNP would also fancy its chances here. Which would make it even-stevens, providing that a slightly increased SNP vote can make sure that any shift from Lib Dem to Labour doesn't trouble SNP constituency members in the central belt who are sitting on slim majorities from last time.

The real unknown is in the regional lists. With there being no apparent coalescence of the hard left vote around either Solidarity or the SSP and seemingly little shift in the Green vote, any fall in the Lib Dem list vote could put some of those lower list positions in play. However, given Labour's constituency dominance in Glasgow, Central Scotland and the West, even if constituency seats do fall, it's hard to see the SNP slipping back if the list vote remains solid. Similarly, there is room for the SNP, which topped the list vote in the Lothians last time, to pick up another list seat with Margo MacDonald standing down if Margo MacDonald stands down.

So, if it's hard to see an SNP advance, it's also hard to see where any significant fall would come from. That's where other political factors come into play... can the Lib Dems claw back some of the support that they appear to be losing to Labour between now and May? Can the SNP make a successful pitch for those Lib Dem voters scunnered with their party's role at Westminster? And how will personality play when voters make up their minds about who they want to lead Scotland for the next four years?

I expect we'll be hearing quite a bit about the respective merits of Alex Salmond versus Iain Gray over the next few months. However, the interesting bit for me is how the rest of ministerial team shapes up against their opposite numbers. Nicola Sturgeon against Jackie Baillie at health is no contest, while John Swinney's command of his finance brief regularly reduces Andy Kerr to shouty incoherence. Mike Russell easily swats away all-comers, and stands head and shoulders above (I had to look this up) Des McNulty. It's seldom difficult to distinguish between Johann Lamont and a ray of sunshine, but sheer ability places Alex Neil a country mile ahead of her. Finally, the idea of shoogly bandwagon jumper extrordinaire Richard Baker replacing the robust Kenny Macaskill as Justice Minister ought to be enough to bring any thinking adult out into a cold sweat.

Then there's the matter of policies and general approach. Labour has done itself no favours with its opportunistic approach to minimum pricing. Their approach to knife crime is a joke, and their opposition to increased police numbers puts them dead against a policy which has seen a marked reduction in crime. Having spent four years decrying first local income tax and then a freeze in council tax, their apparent determination not just to persevere with this most unfair of taxes but to see council tax increase during the present downturn, alone deserves to see them given short shrift.

Westminster will also play a factor. With impending budget cuts, it's simply not credible for Labour to announce billions in spending increases without saying what they will cut to pay for it all. Nor is it credible for the party which led us to the brink of economic catastrophe to decry the spending reductions being made by others, which they made necessary and would have had to see through themselves if in Government. Given their cack-handed approach to each and every budget under the SNP to date, it's hard to imagine Labour adopting a position that is any more honest or intelligent this time around.

Finally, at least for this post, there's the matter of the tone of voice which the party projects. Iain Gray, whatever his other qualities, strikes a consistently carping and negative tone, which goes down badly. All too often, whether under Wendy Alexander or Gray, their policy stance has been a binary calculation that if the SNP is for something, then they have to be against it.

The overall tone over the past four years has been one of gripe, groan and moan, alongside a refusal to accept their responsibility for the mess of our military entanglements and the fiscal devastation created by Gordon Brown. The voters know it too, and in the absence of anything positive to say, it's by no means a foregone conclusion that with a Con Dem coalition in London, that Scottish voters will when it comes down to it return to a Labour Party that has given plenty of good reasons not to vote for it.

So Labour's lead is weak, while the SNP core support remains strong. The SNP has governed well and has a team of credible and experienced ministers who can readily see off their opponents. Labour, unforgivably for a party seeking a return to government, remains dangerously weak on policy and on answers on how to deal with the downturn. With the scrutiny which the next few months will bring to their overwhelmingly negative prospectus, that, above all else, is why there's all to play for between now and May.


voterinscotland said...

If Labour think putting up Council Tax is a vote winner then I suggest they knock on a few doors around the country.

Doug Daniel said...

I agree wholeheartedly in regards to the difference in quality between SNP ministers and their opposite numbers in the Labour party. Salmond, Sturgeon and Russell are particularly outstanding politicians, and when you try to think of Holyrood politicians of discernible talent, just about all of them are from the SNP benches (although I don't suppose there really are benches in Holyrood). The idea of Richard Baker being in charge of our justice system is horrifying, matched only by the image Scotland would be portraying on the global stage by implying that Iain Gray is the cream of our crop.

A politician of the talent and stature of Alex Salmond being FM gives much needed credibility to our parliament. Iain Gray as FM would make it difficult to combat accusations like "toytown parliament" and "glorified councillors". Surely the people of Scotland will see this come May?

Malc said...


I've been led to believe that Margo is going to stand again - but I can't find any kind of announcement anywhere. Do you have an online source that carries an announcement? I mainly ask because it obviously has a bearing on how to predict Lothian seats!


Richard Thomson said...

Hi Malc,

No, I don't, now that you mention it, and since I can't find anything which says whether she will or she won't, you've cast a huge doubt over that particular assumption!

I'd better go and change the text...



Richard Thomson said...

Voter in Scotland - agreed entirely.

Doug - I've no doubt you're correct that Iain Gray as FM would represent a step backwards - for devolutionists as well as idependistas.

The SNP has many positive stories to tell about its period in office to date, but it's inevitable that voters will still be making comparisons between the personnel on offer.



Malc said...


Margo has no plans to stand down at the next election "unless [she] falls down dead."

Paragraph 17:

Guess that answers that one...

Richard Thomson said...

Guess so. It doesn't get much more emphatic than that.

FWIW, if I can't get that extra Lothians SNP MSP, then I'll happily keep Margo.