The latest poll findings, for the Mail on Sunday, suggest the gap is being closed, with support on both votes for the SNP rising to 37%. The direction of travel is upwards, there appears to be momentum, all is going to plan.
You can almost imagine the SNP’s Chief Executive and its archetypal quiet man, Peter Murrell, ticking off his conference checklist. Decent coverage for pre-conference briefing; warm response to new party broadcast; new look website almost gremlin free; packed hall; no trouble makers (all motions went through unchallenged and unopposed today); decent warm up speeches from Ministers; easy rebuttal to Labour’s attempt to steal the headlines; and the crowning glory, a top notch speech that stirs the delegates and hits the media marks from the great leader.
Ah yes, it’s all going swimmingly. But there are a few jarring notes that suggest not. Call them ragged edges but if the burd has noticed them, then others, voters even, will have too.
First, that pre-conference briefing by Angus Robertson MP, the campaign co-ordinator. It just seemed off beam and off message. The re-election strategy is going to focus on “aspirational” voters and will appeal to people who have benefitted from government largesse in the last four years. But a few short weeks ago, the mantra was “protect” – a kind of safety first approach. And this is not an aspirational election. Indeed, few voters can unfurrow their brows long enough to even remember there is an horizon out there: any aspiration is either for assurance we can get through this or for something that is completely different.
Moreover, the idea that investing in extra police officers and increasing spending in the NHS will result in the workers who directly benefit from such investment voting SNP, is either naive or cynical or possibly both. Public service workers, we are constantly reminded, are not there for the money and adhere to an ethos that is admirable, that separates them from the rest of us. Indeed, many public sector workers will be insulted by the suggestion that being looked after by the SNP Government will make them more likely to vote SNP this time round. It is a message that is also likely to rancour with the rest of us: protecting public sector workers at our expense might just lose as many votes as it gains.
There’s also the groundhog day issue which others have highlighted recently. In an election, people want things to vote for: it’s less about what you’ve done in the past but more about what you will do for them now. Thus, policies such as free higher education, bus passes, prescriptions, personal care and keeping nursery provision, current NHS funding and the council tax freeze are all about standing still and delivering more of the same. This could also apply to the team. Undoubtedly the relative strength of the SNP front bench versus the opposition is a sound campaigning point and the team has been remarkably effective, many of them operating at the top of their game. But you are again asking voters to go with the same and for some, this might seem a little stale. Have the finer details of how to sell the record and the team been thoroughly thought through?
Finally, there was Alex Salmond’s speech. I got a wee jolt when he first came on to the stage. Hair not perfectly in place – so not Alex – tie a bit askew, and very, very tired looking. And he started quite hesitantly: the joke seem forced. I’m sorry but there was something that didn’t seem quite right.
When he got going, it was a very good speech. Well crafted with some extremely resonant themes – who speaks for Scotland indeed – and referring to my last post when I asked if he would play his rooks and his Queen, Salmond very clearly did. The vision thing was there – in spades – and there were some clever touches, such as spelling out the benefits of independence without referencing it with the scary i word, and the line that “Labour didn’t stand up for Scotland when they had their chance: why would they do better now” was a powerful rejoinder.
But it wasn’t a great speech and it wasn’t a great delivery. He managed to deliver the personal ask – me for FM – without getting personal at all. Voters have no more clue about Salmond the man than they had four years ago.
The last section which was all about the vision, about independence as a means to an end, should have been measured, delivered with an even tempo, building to a climactic crescendo of “we fought not to govern over people, but for the people to govern over themselves.” Instead, it was rushed, it had too many moments crammed in, the theme was not developed fully and it all fell a bit flat. There was even a moment’s hesitation before conference realised he was finished.
Taking all these issues together, there is something that the burd can’t quite put her finger on, that suggests that all is not quite well. The glass is a bit warped, the setting a bit off key. Is the SNP capable of closing the gap further? Yes. There is enough of a package taking shape, that combined with the policy triangulation, and the SNP having something very different to say on independence, will result in a race to the wire.
Has it done enough to seal the deal yet? No, this will only happen when – if – the SNP manages to smooth out these hangnails. That they exist so close to the election is not a good sign.