One thing’s for sure: we’ll be seeing a lot more of Ed Miliband in Scotland in the run up to the election on 5th May. And we’ll be hearing an awful lot about jobs, not least because his own might be affected if Labour does not win and return to power.
His flying visit last week and the accompanying media release dropped some heavy hints on the tone and content of Labour’s narrative for the Holyrood campaign. Whisper it, but at last, we might be seeing some evidence of joined-up thinking.
This is what Miliband had to say on Friday:
“Families across the country are worried about jobs, worried by rising household bills, and worried by the fact that the Tory-led government is making things worse, not better. I know Iain Gray’s priority for Scotland is to create jobs and help families facing tough times. Unemployment in Scotland used to be below the UK average, and now it is above. The Tory-led approach is to cross their fingers and just hope the private sector creates the jobs that are being cut elsewhere. Just desperately hoping for jobs is not a strategy for creating them.”
And this is what Ed Balls has been talking about on his blog this weekend:
“The Tory-led government has deliberately and needlessly taken Britain down a different path with cuts that go too far and too fast, and tax rises which directly hit family budgets. They have cut jobs programmes, withdrawn government investment from the economy, raised VAT, and cut government support to millions of families…. Labour’s alternative plan would put jobs and growth first.”
Finally, this is the line from Andy Kerr MSP, Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson, on the Scottish budget:
“The Scottish Government’s biggest priority should be to support jobs and economic growth, but this budget does neither. By failing to take action to provide young people with work and opportunities they are risking the life chances of a whole generation. The SNP can hardly say that they are supporting economic growth while at the same time cutting training budgets, slashing investment and penalising companies who create and support thousands of jobs across Scotland.”
Jobs and economic growth are clearly going to be key themes, but criticising both the UK and Scottish Governments’ approach on jobs, cuts and economic growth is the easy part of constructing this narrative. It will be more difficult to develop alternative ideas that are affordable, credible and compelling: never mind what they aren’t doing, what is Labour proposing to do instead?
But here’s a thought. If the SNP Government responds positively to the call for a Future Jobs Fund, apprenticeships for school leavers and a bigger regeneration fund, not only will Labour have scant reason to vote against this year’s Scottish budget, but they will have given away a central plank of their platform and allowed the SNP to claim the glory. Elevating them to a starring role in this part of the narrative would amount to failure, when airbrushing them out of the picture would appear to be the aim.
Ed Miliband, and Iain Gray for that matter, do not mention the SNP once by name in their joint media release. Miliband only has eyes for the “Tory-led government” at Westminster. It’s early days but it suggests that Labour’s tactics in this Scottish election will be to ignore or at least, sideline Scotland as much as possible. The 2010 UK election result, and polls since, suggest that Scottish voters are inclined to “come home” to Labour, so it makes sense to try to turn this election into a mini-referendum on the UK Government’s performance to date.
In keeping with this approach, Miliband also takes a moment to woo disaffected Liberal Democrat voters and expect the courtship to continue in the coming months. Indeed, it will be amusing to see attack dogs like Duncan McNeil get their heads around this approach. Karen Gillon cuddling up to them in leaflets? Nope, I can’t see it either.
The strategy requires Labour to present itself as an alternative to the ConDem government while at the same time encouraging people to choose them to govern Scotland and trying to ignore the current Scottish government and its perceived failure on jobs and growth. But there is a risk that it all plays into the SNP’s hands by indirectly making the case for more financial and economic levers to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. The inherent complexities of such an approach will require careful planning and consideration of all the angles to avoid the narrative unravelling.
It remains to be seen if Labour is up to the job.