>There’s been a lot of excitement in the SNP section of cyberspace – with a bit of cheerleading by the Greens as well – at a couple of polls published over the weekend which put them well ahead of everyone else in the Holyrood race. They are talking about the SNP beating Labour leader Iain Gray in East Lothian, of winning Orkney from us, and ousting the one really talented person on Labour’s front bench, Jackie Baillie. But we know what comes after pride…………
Not that they are going to listen to me, but I’d counsel caution, especially given what happened to the Liberal Democrats last year. I was firmly in the camp of “keep calm and carry on” when our poll ratings soared in the wake of Nick Clegg’s fabulous performance in the first leader’s debate last year. I never thought at any point that we’d get 30% of the vote, even though I thought and still think that we had the best leader and the best policies. There’s a long way to go before May 5th, which is the only poll, after all, that matters. Let me tell you why.
First of all, on the constituency seats these polls always assume a uniform swing and ignore the situation on the ground. You just can’t do that as each seat is different.
Labour’s campaign so far has been simply atrocious. They are losing the argument, thanks to Tavish Scott and the Liberal Democrats, on a single national police force, they have been all over the place on their flagship policy to imprison anyone convicted of carrying a knife, against the advice of those who understand these things. They have no idea how many extra prison place would be required. There were around 3900 convictions for this last year, but Labour think they’d only need 500, or 1000 places, depending on who you listen to. And Richard Baker admitted on Newsnight last week that he’d picked up the £500 million supposed costs to the NHS of knife crime from inaccurate press reports. Their plans to centralise social work budgets have been trashed by COSLA, vindicating Tavish Scott’s position. In the words of Malcolm Tucker, Labour’s campaign has been an omni-shambles from day one. Actually Tucker would use more words, but I’m writing this before the watershed…
Labour often fight useless campaigns though. Last year their main reason for voting for them was that they weren’t the Tories. This year they are trying to portray themselves as some sort of SNP-lite without the independence bit, changing their minds on things like the Council Tax freeze and free prescriptions which they failed to support in Parliament. They are trying to pretend that the total financial mess the country was left in after their 13 years in Government is nothing to do with them and that they would have made cuts that nobody would have noticed.
One thing I’ve noticed in my almost 30 years of political activism is that when Labour are up against it, they get nasty and vicious. Expect over the next 10 days some heavy duty character assassinations from them. They’ll also try to shift the ground on to issues like independence which most people in Scotland oppose. I wonder if they’ll selectively quote Jeff from Better Nation’s excited prediction that “Either way, with 8 pro-independence seats amongst the Greens and Margo, this poll on its own suggests that an independence referendum will happen in the next parliamentary term” leaving off the rest of the sentence which implies that he thinks Scotland will vote against going it alone.
I don’t think that the Scottish people are quite that stupid. Nobody’s going to believe that Salmond’s going to declare UDI. The worst that can happen is that we’ll waste some time and effort on a referendum that most people don’t want. I’ve always said that I’m pretty relaxed about the prospect and if it happened, I’d spend my time making the No campaign positive, inspirational and ambitious.
The air war stuff is important, but it’s not the only decider. If there’s one thing that Labour is good at, it’s getting their vote out in the places that matter on the day. And they are probably better at that than any other party. You can bet your life that they’ll spend 5th May going round the doors in key areas for them telling people that they can get rid of the Coalition at Westminster if they vote Labour – which would, of course, be a complete and utter lie as this election is for the Scottish Parliament and won’t influence the 5 year coalition agreement one bit. They’ll go round telling people that they need to vote Labour to stop independence.
As for the Greens, when people get to realise that their proposals for Land Value Taxation are going to hit pensioners, students, people who rent their homes, single parents and people who live in city centres hard, I don’t expect that their vote will go up by as much as they think. I don’t remember them being particularly constructive or achieving anything during the time in Parliament when they had 6 MSPs either. I can’t see the point of voting for them.
And, quietly, maybe a bit more quietly than I’d like, the Scottish Liberal Democrat position on a whole load of key issues in this election is being backed up. The Scottish Police Federation overwhelmingly voted against a single police force, and the CPPR verified our spending approach, It goes to show that we have a credible set of ideas and proposals. What we need in the last 10 days is to get them out there with confidence and passion. There’s two leader’s debates coming up on 1st and 3rd May. I don’t think anything on this planet makes Tavish more passionate than the idea of a political power grab to the centre. He needs to talk about keeping services local, a lot. He needs to talk about how his upbringing at the heart of a strong community shaped his outlook and his belief that people should have a say in the services they have, not just take what they’re given by a remote state. He needs to talk about ambition, and hope and the positive future for Scotland we see.
This election is far from over. And counting chickens before they are hatched just leads to a lot of egg yolk running down your face.