Gray invokes the ghost of Tories past

“In 2007, we were shite, they were brilliant and they still only won by one seat.”

This is a highly technical assessment by a Labour insider of their performance at the 2007 election.  But it does have a serious point to make, for it summarises succinctly the approach forming the party’s strategy towards the current campaign.

Scottish Labour has an inbuilt advantage over the SNP, in terms of the electoral system but also in the hearts and minds of the great Scottish voting public.  Home is where the heart is after all, and people have been with Labour through thick and thin.  The narrowness of the SNP’s victory in terms of seats belies the huge swing away from voting as they always had, to voting for something different.  It was a mood that took over the nation, yet the sheer size of majorities in many central belt constituencies ensured that many Labour incumbents hung on by their fingernails.

Thus, in this election, all Labour has to do is be “less shite” and normal service will be resumed.  In short, Labour does not have to be anything, or for anything to persuade voters back into the fold.  Which is why in the pre-briefing for today’s Scottish Labour gathering – I’m sorry but you cannot call a one day shindig a conference – Salmond went unmentioned, the SNP was ignored and Iain Gray trained his sights on the Tory led UK government. 

Invoking the ghost of Tories past is deliberate and calculated to win this election by fear and by offering Scotland a bulwark against the worst excesses of Westminster.  Iain Gray is attempting to shepherd the flock into the safety pen of Holyrood by crying wolf. 

The aim is to give people reasons not to vote SNP rather than for Labour.  Reminding voters of what happened to Scotland under Thatcher and the last Conservative UK government is about placing Holyrood firmly within the context of the Union:  who forms the Scottish Government matters in terms of our current place in the United Kingdom.  We cannot ignore what is going on south of the border, as the SNP would like, because it will impact hugely on our families and livelihoods.  Don’t forget – this campaign will be fought in the context of the first welfare reforms and tax credit changes starting to bite.

And so, Scotland needs someone to defend all that we hold dear and have control over against the worst excesses of Conservatism.  It’s safety first – thinking and acting defensively.  Now is not the time for big thoughts and ideas.  It’s all about the here and now, not what might be, which is a neat way of bringing the constitutional debate into play without actually talking about independence or change.

Only Scottish Labour could have considered local bus services a suitable topic for its last chance set piece debate in this Scottish Parliamentary session.  Nothing big, nothing ambitious, nothing visionary.  Instead, we got a pledge to overhaul the current system and to improve access to local routes and increase the frequency of services.  Now doesn’t that make your heart sing?

Which is the point really.  The strategy is about showing that Labour is back in touch with its community roots and in tune with the bread and butter issues that matter on the doorstep.

Today, expect Iain Gray to invoke the worst Thatcherite totems, and by association link Salmond and the SNP.  Destruction of mining communities?  Oh yes, and Labour will reinstate the funding the SNP is taking away from the coalfields regeneration trusts.  Thousands of young jobless?  Definitely, with a neat twist of the SNP having started out with Scotland having the lowest unemployment in the UK and finishing with one of the highest rates.   Bankers’ bonuses and the rich getting richer?  That will be how to damn Salmond by association with the Thatcherite era, conveniently ignoring, of course, that inequality between the haves and have nots grew under previous Labour administrations in Scotland and the UK.  ASBOs and knife crime?  That will be Labour getting tough when the joint Conservative and SNP agenda is to go soft on offenders.  Showing exactly who is on your side in the process.

Don’t expect Gray to go toe to toe in his speech with Salmond or the SNP’s agenda for this election.  They will, of course, be attacked roundly but on jobs and the economy, not squarely on devolved issues.  Largely, the SNP will be sidelined or ignored as Gray pits himself and Labour against Cameron and Conservatives.  Don’t even expect him to blush when he mentions all the policy clothes his party has stolen from the SNP’s washing line.  That activity will be pitched in terms of Scotland deserving better than what the Tories are doing elsewhere.  Gray might even have the audacity to claim that Labour “speaks for Scotland”; he’ll just articulate what that means differently.

Scottish Labour is calculating that it only has to prove to voters that it is less shite than it was in 2007.  Cynical?  Perhaps.  Disheartening?  Only for the anoraks.  As long as it succeeds and ushers the voters safely home, Labour won’t care.


7 thoughts on “Gray invokes the ghost of Tories past

  1. Serves me right for tempting fate. After a long period of abstinence, it was thrown at (and fortunately remained stuck to) the ceiling tonight. Glad he had porridge this morning.

    Just wish I could get him to aim it at politicians – they throw enough at us.

  2. “Hope I didn’t come across too critical” Why ever not? Labour strategy for the last decade and with which IG is clearly comfortable is to cite the bogey man, whether Maggie or Eck. That trait runs deep and has done since the miners’ strike when it still had considerable moral ‘bottom’. It will also still play in Easterhouse and Mastrick, where ambition has shriivelled to the hollow hope that Labour remains the ‘party of the working man’. Hah!

    But today’s real working man lost party loyalty over the last decade. The erosion that brought down the Tories in Scotland has now infected what in the nineties was an aspirational Labour vote and created a huge pool of floating voters. Hackneyed scare tactics from little men are not going to connect with these voters. Unless Labour gives them a positive message, they will vote elsewhere.

    • Not entirely sure they will in this election. Was certainly true in 2007 but I think the bogeyman of Conservatism does still loom large in the Scottish voting psyche. And while that is a key plank of what Gray was saying today, and will be being said in the next few week, they do offer some positive messages as well. I thought the section of his speech was actually quite aspirational and unlike Salmond who is getting better at the aspirational stuff, it is still pretty intangible ie we still don’t know what independence could deliver. Whereas Gray was quite clear about his tangibles – they might not appeal to everyone, they may be lacking somewhat in ambition but at least people can visualise what they are.

  3. Magic – a Tsar.

    That certainly qualifies as being less shite but if it looks like it, smells like it and is smeared over every square inch of a bedroom window then it’s still shite.

    As ever, HMHB have a neat summary on the topic. I play this song to cheer myself up. May the Lord have mercy on Stringy Bob.

    On a lighter note – has anyone else noticed a sudden flurry of bus stop improvements in the Strathclyde Passenger Transport area? Perhaps someone handed back their expenses before the financial year end!

    • Excellent! Thanks for this link!

      Yep aren’t you pleased you and yours are getting just what you always didn’t know you needed? A champion!

      We should be doing a blogwatch on year end pre election improvements – half of Edinburgh is currently dug up and the salt bins we were shouting for for two years have been installed on our hill. Amazing what the prospect of a vote does….

  4. I think you should have waited for the speech itself, rather than rely on the press reports of it in this mornings papers. I saw those reports, and my heart sank – however having seen his speech, and read the text, Iain Gray certainly spreads around his disdain equally between the SNP and the tories. Which is what you would expect given one is in power in London and the other is in power in Edinburgh. I counted Salmonds name in Iain’s speech 6 or 7 times and the SNP about 10 times.

    I agree that sometimes our campaign appears too negative, but we do have positive messages to tell people, but, as ever, we are reliant on the media (who today seem to have focussed on the Scottish Conservative conference – with the best will in the world they aint going to win in May) and sometimes they focus on the negative – they think thats what sells.

    • I have now read Iain’s speech and I don’t think I was that far off the mark! He does spread his disdain equally and did indeed focus more on the SNP and Salmond, and their record in government, than I suggested he might.

      The negative stuff in Labour’s campaign is not necessarily something to criticise – it is clever politics, as is the politics of here and now – though the speech was also good, and very personal, on aspirations – and the politics of wee, in terms of thinking local and what can be done to make a difference to daily lives.

      And yep the media will always find the negative but the headlines this morning were on the basis of what was briefed and again, that’s clever. There are multiple audiences for a set piece conference speech. In the hall, it’s about appealing to the activists whose main fight is with the SNP, hence all those references, and whom you also want to buoy up, that’s where the appeal on values comes in. Then there is the public with the media as the channel – Labour wants the public to be reminded of the 80s and that they are the party to step up against the Tories. Which is why that was the focus of the briefing.

      Hope I didn’t come across as too critical – it’s all decent politics and at the end of the day, it’s about winning. Liked a few of the policy announcements – the college maintenance allowance and disability champion come to mind.

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