The chicklet likes to play chess and has been beating adults, the burd included, since he started playing aged five. But being only seven, he can get a bit impatient and inevitably, our games hit a bloodthirsty frenzy midway through. I am happy to oblige if only to hasten the inevitable, impending defeat but also because it’s fun. Thus, there will be a five or ten minute spell where we take each other’s key pieces out, leaving a sparsely populated board. Whoever keeps their Queen will triumph.
I think the chicklet may have been advising Labour and the SNP on their election tactics in his spare time.
How else to explain the current rush of policy announcements that cancel each other out. Living wage, free prescriptions, keeping pensioners’ bus passes, merging health and social care, maintaining free personal care, apprenticeships, NHS funding, nursery provision – yep, the pawns have all been cleared. Tuition fees? The bishops have fallen.
And consider Labour’s U turn on the council tax freeze the equivalent of taking out each other’s knights.
The two main parties will go into the campaign proper both promising to freeze the council tax for the first two years in government. Labour’s announcement today also promises a longer term cap on keeping increases below inflation – not sure how the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council will react to being left with such little room for manoeuvre, given his apoplexy at the SNP’s plans – but also not to conduct a property revaluation.
This is the worrying bit actually. Scotland’s property values have changed hugely since the last revaluation and unfairness is evident throughout the system. A clever way of forcing more funding out of the current council tax model would be to conduct such a revaluation, particularly in order to introduce more, narrower bands at the upper end that introduce a fairer, more proportionate system. At the very top, especially, the bandings do not reflect people’s ability to pay. Occupants in houses worth over £212,000 pay the same, highest band. Many middle income families in the property hot spots will find themselves in this territory, while wealthy footballers and bankers in £1m plus properties pay the same. There is definitely scope to squeeze more income out of the luxury market and protection could be built in for pensioners who by accident of time find themselves with valuable homes and small fixed incomes.
But hey, why let the implications and consequences of rash actions get in the way of the haste to gain momentum with voters? Knights are expendable, after all, in the heat of the battle.
The SNP has been scoffing that Labour hasn’t got any ideas of its own in this campaign and has to hoover up theirs. But this is sensible, standard election campaign tactics – its pointy heided name is triangulation- and the current government has not been averse to a little smash and grab of its own. The living wage and apprenticeships are two fine examples of the SNP following where Labour led.
And it makes for a fascinating spectator sport for the likes of me. The two main contenders for Holyrood are effectively clearing out the clutter to leave the space open for the big ideas, the ones that will seal the victory, that can cut huge swathes across the board, from right to left, north to south and importantly, cut across voters’ interests and concerns. The ones that resonate and give people reasons to vote for rather than against their respective parties.
Where might these come from? Given what has been bothering poll participants, they surely have to be linked to the economy and a little look at the exchanges to date suggest there is more to come from both parties on this vital area but it is difficult to see what. Many of the economic levers are still reserved and neither party has much room for manoeuvre.
Which just leaves the old faithful of the constitution. Please no. Hasn’t the Scotland bill taken the sting out of the debate about powers for the Parliament? If Labour and the SNP think it appropriate to retreat into familiar territory and tactics on constitutional change then they will be doing the Scottish people a huge disservice. This election matters too much frankly.
But wait. If Alex Salmond uses his conference speech this afternoon to launch a platform for re-election that involves setting out what Scotland could achieve, how things could be done differently, what kind of country we could be, what might be delivered for the Scottish people under independence, then for the first time, we will be in quite different territory. That of the vision thing, of thinking big and offering a real platform for “making Scotland better”. Independence as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
Is Salmond brave enough to introduce his rooks and Queen into play at this stage of the campaign? We are just about to find out….