Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Crisis... What Crisis?

So Scottish Labour have ditched Lamont, elected one of the young bright things as deputy leader and a Westminster player as leader.  And still their poll ratings are tanking.  So what gives?

Well for starters there is still the bubbling resentment at the wasted Blair years.  Yup, there was a huge programme of rebuilding schools and hospitals but the cost of that programme is now public knowledge with the “off sheet” PFI repayments putting the English NHS heavily in the red.  Year on year.  Up here, there was only a hospital in Edinburgh, but the Education system is indebted to the PFI industry.  Four years ago, it was estimated that the total PFI repayments for the 32 local authorities was £400 million.  It felt that New Labour’s working class orientated policies were either crumbs or did not sort out an issue.

A case in point being the low pay subsidy that was Tax Credits.  Brown’s heart was possibly in the right place, though his head and younger self should have cautioned against it. A government less… er… “business friendly” would have known how to tackle low pay without getting the backs up of the militant wing of the CBI.  Blair though saw being “business friendly” as a key requisite to being PM.

Seats (FPTP)
11 June 1987 (WM)
9 April 1992 (WM)
1 May 1997 (WM)
6 May 1999 (SP)
7 June 2001 (WM)
1 May 2003 (SP)
5 May 2005 (WM)
3 May 2007 (SP)
6 May 2010 (WM)
5 May 2011 (SP)
Out of 71 except * - out of 59

As you can see above, Labour has been in decline in Scotland since 1997.  From the Blair landslide of ’97, the only election where their vote went up was the last Westminster election.  So much for Blair being popular here in Scotland.  It is with this backdrop that “Scottish” Labour lost power at Holyrood in 2007 and instantly went into a collective huff.

The funny thing is that since Murphy took over, Scottish Labour have been broadly been doing “the right things”.  They’ve been attacking the SNP from the left by questioning waiting times in hospitals and also the reputed £440 million in “savings” that emerged pre referendum.  They’re asking the right sort of questions of the SNP, the sort of questions Grey & Lamont did not ask.  They’ve even taken up popular causes, like campaigning for the scrapping of a woman’s prison in Greenock.  That Labour then attempted to hijack this campaign for their own publicity (not a new thing for Murphy) shows that they’ve still got a way to go, but their thought processes were at least pointing the right way.  The problem they have is two fold coming up to Westminster 2015.

The first problem is that Milliband and co are not really offering anything different to Cameron.  Balls signed up to Scorched Earth as far back as 2011, while the flagship 50% tax rate policy is the same policy that didn’t go far enough when Darling set it up in 2009.  Rather than starting at £150,000, the 50% rate clearly should be starting around the £100,000 mark.  It reminds so much of the last election, where the only fiscal difference we were told about was the 1% rise in NI that Labour proposed, the projected value of which was £6bn.  Is it any wonder that Milliband’s popularity has soared to be… umm… behind Cameron in the Scottish polls.  For all of the pleading not to vote SNP, Labour simply do not look like the alternative government in waiting.

The second problem is that Labour are still suffering from a sort of hangover from being ejected from power, a hangover where their policy positions are still coming back to haunt them.  They’ve so far avoided the dreaded phrase “means testing”, which probably means it will cross Murphy’s mind next Friday, but there’s plenty of ghosts still haunting Scottish Labour.  "Something for nothing" appears to have been banished though. Good. While there is still the impulse that anything anyone from the SNP says is instantly bad, this needs to be curbed if Labour are to look reasonable.  On the other hand the broken “vow” has undoubtedly scunnered so many people, even more so when Labour types claim that the vow has been delivered when it patiently has not (and we come back to the “Renfrewshire 4” having a point in burning the Smith Commission).  This probably explains the re-newed “Vow Plus”, which as an exercise in shutting the door after the horse has bolted might be doomed to failure…  like the original Vow.  We’ll see…

If pushed, I’d say that I don’t think the SNP will sweep the board with Scottish seats.  The Lib Dems could lose half of their 11 seats to the SNP, but I suspect that the SNP won’t get more than 20 seats.  If the polls stay the same come, say,  mid March though, then the possibility of the SNP performing as the polls suggest becomes more of a reality and the calculus changes.  Remember that in 2011 the polls did not move towards the final result until mid March.  Until them, I’m keeping my scepticism close.  In the meantime the thing Murphy needs to focus on is rectifying the sins of the fathers.

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