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Can Alex Salmond be stopped?

      They think it’s all over.  Chattering Scotland has already held the Holyrood election in its head, and Alex Salmond has won.  The bookies have slashed the odds on an SNP victory.  Labour are already fighting amongst themselves about whom to blame.  Unionists are vainly hoping that the royal wedding might somehow upset the Nationalist bandwagon. Perhaps an outbreak of Britishness will waken Scots from their slumbers, and remind them that  Alex Salmond wants to tear the British national family apart.  Some hope. It will take more than a few street parties and commemorative mugs to halt this nationalist advance.  Momentum is everything and Salmond has got it all right now. 

 That old cliché about a week being a long time in politics has never been truer than in this Scottish election campaign. This time last week, the poll of polls still indicated that Iain Gray was on course for Bute House. Commentators were picking holes in  the SNP’s election manifesto, with its fantasy forecasts for green energy.  Now, suddenly, Super Soaraway Salmond is a slam dunk for First Minister. The Sun is already saying it’s them wot won it. Changed days for the tabloid that, on polling day in May 2007, ran a hangman’s noose on its front page as a warning to Scots about the consequences of voting SNP. 

     But nothing succeeds like success and now everyone wants to be friends with Alex Salmond.  Even the Conservative leader, David Cameron is saying that he can work with the SNP, leading to Labour suspicion that there is an ‘understanding’ between the Tories and the Nationalists. There isn’t – but Cameron won’t exactly be heartbroken to see Labour defeated.    The other  opposition parties are are accusing Alex Salmond of taking the voters for granted and doing premature victory laps.   But there’s been remarkably little triumphalism from the SNP leader, who’s adopted the demeanour of the sober statesman preparing for challenges ahead.  As well he might. Ministers are only too aware of how much more difficult it’ll be to retain voter affection when the full force of the UK government’s deficit reduction campaign hits home over the next two years. 

   We saw a portent this week of things to come in the collapse in high street sales in Scotland – even as retail sales bounced back in the UK.   Deep cuts in spending, a falling housing market, unemployment and unsustainable personal indebtedness is strangling the Scottish economy.  And there is very little, given the Scottish parliament’s lack of economic powers, that any Holyrood government can do about it.  Moreover, as Glasgow University’s Centre for Public Policy in the Regions underlined this week, the SNP have made a lot of costly manifesto promises without obvious means of paying for them.  If there is a criticism of the SNP’s election campaign, which has gone like clockwork so far, it’s that the manifesto has landed them with a lot of unnecessary hostages to fortune. 

  But there’s no doubt that the SNP have used this extended election campaign to maximum advantage.  The latest Ipsos/Mori poll yesterday, showed the Nationalists with a ten point lead over Labour in both the constituency and list votes.  That  may be only one poll, but it follows the YouGov survey at the weekend which showed the SNP pulling ahead on the crucial constituency vote.   More importantly, it chimes with an unmistakable mood in the constituencies.  The ballot may be a fortnight away, but many candidates have almost completed their canvassing,  and the returns seem very favourable to the SNP.  I keep being told to expect some pretty extraordinary results on May 6th – including defeat for Iain Gray in his own East Lothian constituency.  That’s most unlikely – but there’s no mistaking the momentum behind the SNP campaign right now. You can almost feel it.  If this lasts until polling day, the SNP will have pulled off an impressive feat.   For most of the last 18 months, Labour had a stable five to ten point lead over the Nationalists.    Polls tend to narrow during an election, but it is rare  for such an established electoral trend to be reversed during a campaign, let alone in seven days. 

    It is a bitter blow for Labour, and not just in Scotland.  The UK Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was looking to a victory in Holyrood to relaunch his own faltering leadership in Westminster.  He now faces a double rebuff, in the AV referendum and in the Scottish Parliament, leaving the ‘wrong’ Miliband looking like a two times loser.  The post-mortem on Labour’s Scottish campaign has already begun, but I don’t think all the blame is necessarily going to rest on the shoulders of Iain Gray, despite the ‘meatball marinara’ incident last week when he was chased by anti-cuts protesters into a sandwich bar in Central Glasgow.   Serious questions have to be raised about the content of the Labour campaign as well as the leadership.  Adopting key planks of the SNP policy on the eve of the campaign, on tuition fees, council tax etc. was counterproductive.  It looked like cynical opportunism; and frankly it was cynical opportunism.  It was treating the voters with contempt, expecting them to believe that Iain Gray had had a blinding flash of revelation about the need for free higher education that just happened to occur on the eve of the election campaign. These U-turns may have made strategic sense, but you need to take time to review and alter key policy positions, otherwise voters think you’re just making it up as you go along.  The Labour manifesto also strained the credulity of the voters by promising to “abolish” youth unemployment and create 250,000 jobs. 

    Labour have also relied too much on the essentially fallacious claim that “Tories are back”.  They aren’t back in Holyrood and Scottish voters aren’t so stupid that they can’t see this.  Labour also failed to throw a spotlight on the SNP’s main weaknesses. Alex Salmond has been allowed to get away Scot free over the financial crisis and the banking disaster;  the ‘arc of insolvency’ and the collapse of Celtic neo-liberalism in Ireland.  The SNP ‘s lead policy, independence, is unpopular in Scotland, but no one seems to take it seriously any more.   The Megrahi affair was a non starter for Labour, and the SNP brushed off claims that its energy policy was a lot of pious greenwash. Local Income Tax threatened to become a serious issue, especially when Alex Salmond used the courts to block publication of ministerial advice on the impact of the council tax replacement. But the SNP neutralised the issue by shelving the tax until 2016.
  Of course there’s still two weeks to go, and anything could happen. Iain Gray might finally locate his mojo. Perhaps the royal wedding will provoke an outbreak of sentimental unionism, or Alex Salmond will condemn the UN bombing in Libya. But the lights are fading in the Labour camp. They tried to fight a 1980s campaign in 2011, and they are nearly out of time.  

About iain2macwhirter

I am a columnist for the Herald and Sunday Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom. Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" . Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman etc... Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees.


9 thoughts on “Can Alex Salmond be stopped?

  1. Alex Salmond has been allowed to get away Scot free over the financial crisis and the banking disaster; the ‘arc of insolvency’ and the collapse of Celtic neo-liberalism in Ireland. The SNP ‘s lead policy, independence, is unpopular in Scotland, but no one seems to take it seriously any more. The Megrahi affair was a non starter for Labour, and the SNP brushed off claims that its energy policy was a lot of pious greenwash.1. The full quote was, "SNP Leader Alex Salmond has today called for Scotland to join northern Europe's arc of prosperity, with Ireland to the west, Iceland to the north and Norway to the east all small independent countries in the top six richest nations in the world." Which was true at the time. Ireland has gone into a black hole because of the incredible stupidity of its leaders who made Ireland and its people responsible for all the private bad debt in the Irish banks. Iceland appears to be recovering well and Norway is the invisible partner. Never mentioned by anyone including here when the, "arc of insolvency", is mentioned because unfortunately for the doom-sayers it is doing very well thank you.2. Alex Salmond had nothing to do with the Banking collapse which happened under the Labour Government and was a direct result of their total incompetence when overseeing and regulating the banks.3. Ireland is an independent country. What Alex Salmond had to do with that is anyone's guess.4. We don't know if independence is unpopular because we've never had a vote on it yet.5. It's serious enough for Alex Salmond to say they're trying for another independence referendum bill if they manage to win in this election.6. Megrahi as a stick to beat the SNP with sucked in too many Labour connections and backslapping with Libya for it to be used by Labour.7. Do you have figures to say that the SNP's energy policy is, "pious greenwash"?Nothing is won yet and I won't believe it is won till the vote is counted on the 5th of May but you're quite right about the 80's Labour campaign. It was focused entirely on the nasty Tories in Westminster but there's enough of us with memories long enough to remember Labour's, "Feeble Fifty", MP's in Westminster and how utterly useless they were in protecting Scotland. Maybe if Labour had actually managed to protect Scotland in the 80's against Thatcher the campaign would have made more sense.

    Posted by DougtheDug | April 22, 2011, 5:49 pm
  2. Labour in Scotland has always used the anti Tory ploy and has taken the SNP only 4 years to show the labourites the fallacy of that argument.Onward and upward.

    Posted by cynicalHighlander | April 22, 2011, 9:35 pm
  3. It was Labour's failure to manage the economy in the 1970s which resulted in the Tories, led by Mrs Thatcher, coming to power in the late 1970s. It was Labour's failure to manage the economy which resulted in the Tories coming to power in 2010.It was Labour who said they would bring in cuts worse than anything Mrs Thatcher did – real or imagined.Then they compund it by fighting a Scottish Election for the Scottish Parliament on the basis that they can protect Scotland from the Tories when it is Labour's failure which time and again lets in the Tories. Labour talks of voting for them to 'send a message' to Westminster.Well thanks very much but we can send a message, on a postcard if we can find a Post Office after Labour's cuts to that service, to Westminster. This election is about sending MSPs to Holyrood not Westminster and Iain Gray just does not get it.

    Posted by CWH | April 22, 2011, 10:06 pm
  4. I get the feeling you guys are trying to push Salmond into getting all sure of himself Iain so that the public get peed off and give him a bloody nose. He won't take anything for granted. He'll wait til the votes are counted but I have to say it was a bit of a shock to see even Gordon Brewer on NN Scotland actually showing him a bit of respect the other night. Ordinary folk in Scotland are not as stupid as the Labour Party in Scotland believed them to be. We know that without the SNP there is no way prescription charges would have come down by even 50p. (I disagree with free prescriptions incidentally. I thought getting it to £3 was fabulous.) But Labour Governments, like the Tories, had used prescriptions as a means of raising revenue and exploited the sick. We were close to £8 an item when the SNP came to power. We were also about to lose two vital A&E facilities right on top of motorway networks. And what did Kerr say? He said people didn't count when it came to consultation but Health Board personnel did! You say Salmond has made rash promises. What about Gray? He's promising this "living wage" of his, he's promising to get the GARL project back on track (pardon the pun.) When would you ever have thought we would see the Leader of Labour in Scotland being chased out of Glasgow Central station into a fast food outlet, then up Union St, round in Gordon Street and away in a taxi? Its a shame really. Had cameras not been present Gray could have set Margaret Curran on the guy and I bet she'd have punched his lights out. Whatever you think of Salmond he has played a blinder and yes he had help from the Tories but consensus politics is surely a whole lot more healthy than what Labour have delivered here for decades. Now if only we could do the same in Scottish Councils there really would be hope of achieving more again. Because it was Labour Councils who were actively denying Scottish pupils lower class sizes simply to screw the SNP policy on class sizes.

    Posted by Jo G | April 22, 2011, 10:55 pm
  5. "Perhaps the royal wedding will provoke an outbreak of sentimental unionism, or Salmond will condemn the UN bombing in Libya"Iain I have to say that sentence echoes your own desperation as much as Labours.The Libya jibe especially is a cheap shot and Salmond was quite correct to condemn the UN bombing in Kosovo which you allude to. The "unpardonable folly" jibe which you've dug out more often than, "separatists", "Albania" and "Nationalist bandwagon", is just another unionist buzzword. It adds nothing to an article except confirmation that the author is in possession of the fabled, "Unionist Bingo Card".If these weren't obvious enough the exclusion of Norway when discussing the so called, "Arc of Insolvency", simply has readers calling "house" on you yet again.The conclusion that Cameron wouldn't, "exactly be heartbroken to see Labour defeated", is again pure unionist fantasy.Why on earth would Cameron fear a toothless unionist office manager thirled to Westminster rule for Scotland?Wouldn't the man who wants to break up Britain be slightly more worrying for him?Journalists like yourself who want the unionist status quo to continue are a mystery to me.Lining up alongside Alan Cochrane, Jenny Hjul, Angus MacLeod, Magnus Gardham and the rest to throw wet sponges at Salmond while crying, "Nyah, down with the nats we want to keep the union" so that Scotland can be treated as a local government region, nuclear dump, cash cow in perpetuity seems an absurd position for any thinking person to take and to be honest makes me more sad than angry.The sheer poverty of ambition it shows for our children and their children, should they choose to stay in Scotland is simply bewildering.

    Posted by GrassyKnollington | April 23, 2011, 11:05 am
  6. "The SNP’s lead policy, independence, is unpopular in Scotland"Actually it usually has about the same level of support as the status quo, within the uncertainties of such measurements. So I suppose we might equally well say that the Union is unpopular, thus explaining why the right wing parties don't want a referendum on independence."the SNP brushed off claims that its energy policy was a lot of pious greenwash."Admitting that we can't and mustn't carry on as we always have in the past isn't 'pious greenwash' it's just realism. The oil is running out, and even it it wasn't the continuing consequences of burning the stuff hardly bear thinking about. As someone has put it, the only thing worse than Peak Oil is endless oil. The SNP's energy policy just makes a virtue of necessity and I'm sorry if you don't understand this – start reading here: http://www.theoildrum.com/As GK says, your remark on Libya is a cheap shot – more than that, it is ignorant and immoral. I'm pretty sure that if you ask Salmond he will indeed condemn the attack on Libya and all such 'humanitarian bombing', as Vaclav Havel drily described such things. Incidentally the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was condemned by both the Red Cross and Amnesty International; Salmond's condemnation was well-informed. Take a good look at the people who agree with you that such carnage is a good idea: I don't like the company you keep.Anent 'living wage' perhaps someone can help me. I work for a voluntary group dealing with (to generalise) poverty and its consequences. We are told that we cannot lobby Holyrood on Minimum Wage as it is not a devolved matter. How can Living Wage be devolved and Minimum Wage not?

    Posted by Vronsky | April 23, 2011, 2:17 pm
  7. Vronsky wrote:""How can Living Wage be devolved and Minimum Wage not?""Because Ian Gray says so, and he read it somewhere too, and it was widely reported at the time, and he did not run away he walked. Of course whether he [Gray] ran or walked it was still AWAY. But what is semantics to a man who espouses a zero toleance to literacy.So there you have Ian Gray's response to every question.

    Posted by CWH | April 23, 2011, 4:38 pm
  8. I think it is time many political commentators were actually honest, there is not a single labour MSP who should be elected on May 5th. They are morally corrupt and their contempt for their constituents knows no bounds. I was born in Glasgow and I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to travel and live in the many 'small' countries that often appear far above Britain let alone Scotland in many tables that detail heath, education and prosperity. Most telling was my experience as a student in Finland in. the early 90s as I pondered how a country that had gone from Europe's lowest unemployment rate at the time to. about 24% due to the collapse of the USSR was dealing with the crisis. I asked a question during an economics lecture about why I couldn't see the visible effects of such high unemployment, after all I am from Glasgow and we all know what it looks like there. After asking where I came from the lecturer said "You are from Scotland, in Finland we treat our citizens better and our welfare system is better for example if you lose your job, the state will pay 2/3s of your last salary until you have a new job." There was a moments silence in the hall as the foreign students especially the British tried to digest what he had said…then an American student piped up and said it was unsustainable and after that the lecture degenerated into a pretty interesting discussion about welfare and what citizenship entails. But this answer and the question stuck with me in all my travels… Was it sustainable? The answer yes over the next decade Finland recreated new opportunities for its citizens with companies such as Nokia and unemployment again dropped towards the lowest in Europe…. And Scotland? Well… with Blairs election I had such high hopes, but after 3 terms in office has anything in Scotland or Glasgow really changed? I don't believe so…. If anything it is worse, we have a larger social underclass, the gap between the richest and poorest has grown. As I drive through Glasgow occasionally I almost feel like crying to think that in this country, in this day and age, people are so reduced and it's not only confined to our largest city, go to any of our cities and you will find the same. The socialist in Glasgow accosting Ian Gray had it right, they should hang their heads in shame. All those years in power and fundamentally nothing has changed… All those who have no hope, have no wealth, have no stake in society had better hope that independence comes quickly and that Scotland can begin to rebuild itself.

    Posted by Sorry posted using iPad keyboard sucks! | April 23, 2011, 10:08 pm
  9. Please excuse all the type errors in my post above, but I haven't mastered the iPad key board… Yet!

    Posted by Ex Scottish Ski Team Coach | April 23, 2011, 10:17 pm

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