The Nationalists are doing incredibly well in the polls, and I don’t doubt it makes them very happy. Their strategists are to be congratulated, but beyond a visceral hatred of Scottish Labour its difficult to know what it is they believe in.
We know they believe in independence but we know the Scottish people do not – we were, if you recall, asked about that.
Are they in favour of more nurses for the NHS? Apparently not, otherwise they would have already done something about it rather than cutting NHS budgets.
Are they in favour of redistribution? No evidence of that. In fact the white paper only proposed one significant redistribution, and it was in favour of rich corporations, offering to cut their tax bills by 15%.
Are they in favour of creating opportunities for people left behind in the global economy? If they are culling college places that would be a strange way of going about it.
Here’s an easy one – surely they are against nuclear weapons? Nope, what they are against is having them in Scotland because superior morality only extends as far as Carlisle.
The nationalist “surge”, for want of a better expression, isn’t based on a policy offer – its based on something else entirely. We traditionally fight elections on a policy platform offering a manifesto that we think appeals to people, sometimes to their self interest and sometimes on their sense of fairness and aspiration, but a broad package of what we are for and what we will seek to achieve in government.
It may well be that the way we campaign for votes at election has never been particularly powerful; its just that since every party was campaigning on the same premise we never learned how to do it differently.
In the United States the Republicans have long realised that there is powerful electoral opportunity in abandoning “rational” policy argument in favour of emotional appeals to patriotism – they fly the flag, talk up the American dream and proclaim their love of country and of freedom. They swift-boat their opponents and call them anti American. Sound familiar?
The Ashcroft polling out today suggests that people think they can vote SNP and still have a Labour Government all be it in coalition with the SNP. No matter what we think about that as a desirable or even plausible outcome, in essence what it tells us is that people in Scotland still want the broad policy platform of Labour.
Like the Democrats in the United States, Scottish Labour needs to find away to compete for hearts as well as minds.