22 November 2006

Chisholm defeated again

The tenants of Highland Council have rejected stock transfer in a referendum. This is the fourth defeat for the Executive's key housing policy, and all defeats have come over the past 12 months. As the Executive's Minister in charge of this policy the last two years, Malcolm Chisholm has a lot to answer for.

Logically, there are now three options:

1. A change in policy. Any U-turn now would show just how desperate the Labour Party was. If this were to happen, it would most likely end up as a part of the Labour Manifesto next year. If they stick with it, it'll cost them seats, and the most prominent casualty could be the new Education Minister Hugh Henry.

2. A change in presentation. Labour's efforts to sell the policy are failing, possibly because they focus on the bad things that might happen if people vote No. If the policy is that good, why can't they talk about the good things that could happen if people vote Yes?

3. A change in personnel. Jack McConnell has missed two oppportunities to sack Malcolm Chisholm, time is running out, and if Chisholm were going to go of his own accord, you'd have expected him to go after the Renfreshire defeat. However, a campaign is still going on in Inverclyde. That must surely be the nail in Chisholm's political coffin. However, Chisholm might get a stay of execution until the election. Even if McConnell is re-elected as First Minister, Chisholm may find that he loses his place in the Cabinet. Unfortunately, the damage is now too severe to sack him now: the policy is in tatters and replacing Chisholm won't make anyone support it. Continuing with the policy (or the current campaign style) will simply end the career of another Minister. No one will want Chisholm's job if it's seen as supping from the poisoned chalice: so if McConnell goes down this road he has to ditch the policy as well.

That is why the First Minister will take none of the options. He will stick with the policy, at least until the Election. If there are any more votes coming up after Inverclyde, the same old horror stories about houses falling apart under continued Council ownsership will be trotted out. And Malcolm Chisholm will be sent to the schemes, like a lamb to the slaughter. His reward will be a much reduced majority and dismissal from the frontbench, regardless of whether Labour is in Government or Opposition come May.

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