Labour and the SNP locked in a game of electoral chess

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….

8 thoughts on “Labour and the SNP locked in a game of electoral chess

  1. In chess a draw is always the most likely result but although Iain Gray shares Deep Blue’s captivating personality they don’t have too much else in common. He’s too whiney for my tastes and he leads a party that seems to regard power as it’s prerogative and the disbursement of it in favour of close friends as it’s purpose. Too many “blind eyes” and career politicians.

    My feeling is the more he speaks the less votes his party will get but it never pays to overestimate the instinctive voter loyalty they seem to engender. The SNP carried a fair element of “UK protest vote” last time and these could prove fickle.

    I can’t see a majority for anyone but I think that Labour will get most seats and will have to form a minority government. The only potential spanner would be some corruption/nepotism bombshell in the next few weeks.

    I don’t think they have the savvy to run such a government without pissing off all the other parties sufficiently to lose a confidence vote at some stage, however. I can’t see them going full term.

    Relentless exposure of Gray’s whiney voice and some of his colleagues less savoury habits will see him punted in favour of either some shiny Milliband Clone or a lumpen traditionalist. Either of these could spell division and doom.

  2. Pingback: Chess Blog on:John: Labour and the SNP locked in a game of electoral chess | MiloRiano: Big Sports Fan on my team & players

  3. It’s like watching Deep Blue v Garry Kasparov with Tavish Scott as Nigel Short.

    The question is – will the result be the same as the original or the rematch?

  4. Very fair points Burd, it’s just a pity that no politician from any party would dare raise them during an election campaign!

    The problem here is that it’s not just during election campaign this is the case. It’s not a surprise that no party wants to scare the horses two months before a vote but it’s not going to happen two months either.

    I only saw some of the speech but think the SNP’s problem (if this is a clue as to their campaign strategy) is that they’re looking back or telling people they won’t change things e.g. no tuition fees is fine but it’s not a bright new policy dawn, simply maintaining the status quo.

    All the parties – largely because of spending constraints – are morphing into each other just now. And that’s a problem if you’re behind in the race. More at my site if you’re interested.

    • And a very good post yours is too! A lot of Alex Salmond’s speech did look forward which was great actually. The broadcast presumably is first in a series – this one on record, next one on team, last one on vision. But you are right to point out maintaining the status quo might not be good enough.

  5. I wonder if Big Eck was reading your blog before he went onstage, because “means to an end” were his exact words when speaking about independence. I must say I was particularly thrilled by how passionately he defended the principle of free education – “the sun will melt the rocks before tuition fees are introduced in Scotland on my watch”, or something along those lines. That kind of idealism is sorely lacking in most politicians these days, and when you hear him utter those words the way he did, you can’t help but believe that he means it.

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to put the living age and apprenticeships in the same category as Labour’s recent tuition fees and council tax announcements though – I’ve never heard the SNP speak out against a living wage or apprenticeships, whereas Labour have been dead against the council tax freeze since the moment it was first mooted, and have always been in favour of tuition fees, or at least some sort of direct graduate contribution. People use the phrase “U-turn” in politics too much, but this announcement on council tax is not just a U-turn, they’ve skidded through the barriers and started driving along a completely different stretch of road. It’s patently ridiculous, and when it comes up on the TV debates, Iain Gray might as well just hand Alex Salmond a baseball bat and brace himself for a whack around the chops.

    If it were any other party but Labour, they would be getting absolutely destroyed in the media right now.

    • It was a good speech but let down in delivery in last section – which stopped it short of being a great speech. Some great lines, themes and points but mostly I was pleased to see the focus on indepdendence and more generally on the kind of Scotland we should aspire to be – with the powers but also without.

      I hesitated over writing that last bit in the pre blog in case it was wrong call! Went with instinct and it paid off.

      I don;t think I do support free higher education anymore – and surprised myself at arriving here in earlier blogs! But my bigger problem is that it takes £100m into wrong end of education. You’ll not be surprised to hear a blog is coming on it soon.

      But you are dead right re Labour’s U turns and SNP position on Labour commitments – I missed that totally! And a good point well made. But the other thing about triangulation is that it does take sting out. Salmond will bat him verbally for it, we will all enjoy the sport and voters won’t care.

      What labour is doing is not giving people any reason to stay voting SNP – come home to us and we’ll deliver the same is the message. And sadly it might work, if as Stephen Noon alludes to, they can overcome the leadership issue. But then that might take for rocks to melt wi the sun….

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