IT hardly matters whether it was a panic re-launch or the long-planned second phase of Labour's campaign for the Scottish parliamentary elections.
The fact remains that the speech from Iain Gray at The Lighthouse in Glasgow yesterday was the one he should have delivered on the first day of the campaign. He sought to rebuff those who say the Labour leader lacks both passion and vision.
With the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reduced to also-rans in most constituencies, it never made sense to focus opposition on the Westminster Coalition. This speech’s intention was finally to set out the clear blue water between Labour and the SNP in four different ways.
First, invoking the spirit of Clement Atlee, John Smith and Donald Dewar, it aimed to define Labour as the party of social justice. By contrast, Mr Gray claimed, the SNP tries to be all things to all men, promising both to help the poor and create a low tax Scotland for “tax-exile friends”. If Tony Blair once promised “Education, education, education”, this Labour leader’s mantra was “Jobs, jobs, jobs”.
Secondly, Mr Gray reminded voters of some of Alex Salmond’s past aspirations that the SNP leader now rarely mentions: the ambition to match Iceland and Ireland; the desire to join the Euro; and the contention that banks are over-regulated.
Thirdly, he satirised what he sees as some of the Nationalists’ more fantastical manifesto pledges, including the idea of generating all Scotland’s electricity via renewables within nine years or the pledge to freeze council tax for a further five years, undermining local accountability and risking further huge cuts in services or rises in charges.
Finally, he appealed to the two-thirds of voters, who continue to support Scotland as part of the Union, warning them a second term for Mr Salmond would be interpreted as “moral authority to pursue independence”, putting economic recovery at risk and deterring investors. This is a challenging message for Labour to deliver, with polls strongly suggesting many unionists believe Mr Salmond is the best man to take Scotland forward.
The speech went down well with the Labour faithful. A more sceptical public may question Mr Gray’s disavowal of the blind auction style of politics, pointing to the unrealistic-looking pledges on cancer waiting times, student contributions and prison terms for knife wielders. Nevertheless, the biggest weakness of Mr Gray’s speech was its timing. A week may be a long time in politics but most pollsters now believe that even nine days is not long enough for Iain Gray and Scottish Labour.
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