From the killing fields of Cambodia to the perilous platforms of Glasgow Central Station, Iain Gray showed what he was made of on Thursday.
Pursued by anti-cuts protesters, the Scottish Labour leader fearlessly retreated to a Subway shop before being evac’d by taxi to a mobile field hospital where medics conducted emergency surgery on his wounded ego.
What possessed Labour to put out that line about Iain Gray’s war-zone experiences last week? “Teaching in Mozambique during a bloody civil war … doing aid work in Rwanda two months after the genocide…” I’m sure he has indeed been prepared to boldly go… But the first rule about being bold is not to boast about it. The second is not to get others to boast on your behalf. Labour MP Margaret Curran had clearly been urged to repeat the line about “Iain Gray’s walk in the killing fields”, which she delivered word for word in a TV interview. Then the press were briefed just to make sure.
This merely served to make Iain Gray look slightly ridiculous, as if he believed heckling in Glasgow could be compared with genocide in sub-Saharan Africa. Anyway, he ran away from the anti-cuts protesters, which isn’t what heroes are supposed to do. Why did he not stand his ground and take them on in hand-to-hand debate, as the redoubtable Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie did the previous week when confronted by the same demonstrators? I know who I’d want to have by my side in a tight spot.
The meatball marinara massacre ended a desperate week for the Scottish Labour campaign, with Iain Gray beginning to look as accident-prone as Gordon Brown last May. The manifesto launch on Wednesday was beset by fire alarm and lashing rain. Former Labour MP Dennis Canavan and the Labourite actor Brian Cox both came out in support of Alex Salmond for First Minister. The press rubbished the giveaway manifesto, with its promises to reward every special interest, public-sector union and lobby group in the land, at a time of unprecedented public spending restraint.
Indeed, you couldn’t help feeling some sympathy for Iain Gray, being barracked for cuts in spending when his manifesto was promising the reverse. Labour has continued to conduct its campaign as if fighting the Tories in Westminster, rather than the SNP in Holyrood.
Like the killing fields of Cambodia, this is rather remote from the Scottish electoral reality. But I wouldn’t dismiss the strategy. “See Tory cuts? Vote Labour” is a brutally effective pitch. Despite Iain Gray having had a disastrous week, I’m not writing Labour off yet. Similarly, the fact his promise to “abolish” youth unemployment is almost certainly unachievable is beside the point. It’s what many voters want to hear, with nearly one in five young people out of work
What voters didn’t want to hear was that their children were going to be released from school at 14 or, if they stay on, will have to pay £4000 a year tuition fees at university. Nor do they want to hear about bringing back prescription charges and other cuts in benefits – which is why the Tories had a worse week than Labour, even though their leader gave a good account of herself. The Scottish Tories lost out, not because they didn’t get their message across but because they did – only too well. They continue to listen to influential voices within their movement who believe Scotland should be punished for devolution, the Barnett Formula and high public spending.
But at least the Tories can console themselves that the Scottish Liberal Democrats did even worse. You can almost feel the hostility radiating from voters. The LibDem poll numbers are dreadful, vying for fourth place with the Greens, and I don’t see them improving much by polling day. The Scottish LibDem leader, Tavish Scott, seems to have lost his voice, and even his identity, with voters apparently mistaking him for snooker player Steve Davis, and even Fred Goodwin.
One consolation is that their manifesto proposal to finance job-creation by selling off the debt of Scottish Water is looking rather more credible now than when first announced last week. Initially, it sounded like the kind of three-card financial trick hedge funds played during the credit boom. But even the former SNP finance secretary, John Swinney, has admitted it could raise at least £1.2 billion – though it’s not clear yet whether the UK Treasury might not simply deduct this from the Barnett payments. I think this idea is taken more seriously in SNP circles than they are letting on. But anyway, it’s too late now for the LibDems and for Tavish Scott, who will be lucky to hang on as leader after this debacle.
Which brings us to the SNP’s score card, two weeks into this marathon election campaign. Alex Salmond’s decision to delay his party manifesto launch for a week looks to have paid dividends. It’s left the field clear for the other parties to trip over themselves. The SNP has largely let its new supporters do the talking, like Dennis Canavan and John Farquhar Munro, the former Liberal Democrat MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West.
The SNP also pulled off a well-timed council by-election gain in Wick, which must be putting the frighteners on the Liberal Democrat’s northern MSPs.
But with more than three weeks still to go, there’s ample opportunity for the Nationalists to make a mess. As the only party left standing, the media will now be looking for every opportunity to trip them up. The SNP manifesto will be relentlessly picked over. And how will Alex Salmond deal with the anti-cuts mob? We’re about to find out.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.