When I cast my mind to the Labour campaign, I can't help but hear a flushing sound. The party are panicking, and far from advancing the campaign that Jack McConnell claimed to want all that time ago - a positive campaign based on devolved issues like education - all we've heard are shrill proclamations of the doom that would befall Scotland with independence. Labour have offered nothing positive and contributed nothing to the debate. Things were always going to be tough for them, but they haven't helped themselves, and it seems that activists are focusing either on the Brown Succession at Westminster, or on life after Jack McConnell. Their one bail-out is that they might get tctical votes from Unionist voters, but this benefit is cancelled out by the tactical vote against Labour that we've seen in By-Elections since 2005. To make matters worse, with the post-McConnell situation being considered, the Party's main Leadership contenders are vulnerable to losing their seats: Andy Kerr is in danger, and Wendy Alexander's position isn't as secure as she would like, with recent polls suggesting a large enough swing to the SNP to unseat her.
Considering the relentless attack that Labour have made against them, the SNP is doing very well. They are advancing ideas, where Labour are not, but they have engaged in the odd spot of attack politics from time to time. It's not a totally positive campaign, but clear proposals have come out of it. The one weakness has been the focus on personality, though the Party must be relieved to have a Leader that has one this time around, and as Alex Salmond has a decent shot at becoming First Minister, it's logical that we should see more of him. A lot has been written about the party becoming 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' on the Regional Vote, and accusations of a personality cult have been made. Frankly, I think this decision has more to do with the fact that Salmond's first name begins with the first letter of the alphabet than anything else. In any case, the Party will be boosted by today's YouGov poll, as well as sympathetic noises that the Liberal Democrats have started to make. Added to the endorsements by the Sunday Herald, Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Times, and you get a Party that can be pleased with the campaign.
Annabel Goldie has come across quite well during this campaign, but the Tories' current commitment to remaining in Opposition have made the Party largely irrelevant to the process, especially with Labour having stolen their Unionist clothes. Think of the French election, where Sarkozy has empolyed a tough stance on immigration, and squeezed the vote for Le Pen and the Front National, and you see the problem the Tories have. Sarkozy's policies drained support from Le Pen, and also gave people who are concerned about immigration but don't want to vote for a Far Right party someone to vote for, and Le Pen fell from second place to fourth. The Tories haven't yet been fully rehabilitated in the eyes of Scots voters and Labour have gone on a 'Save the Union' ticket, so Annabel Goldie is the Jean-Marie Le Pen to Jack McConnell's Nicolas Sarkozy. There are even rumblings that Tory supporters in Labour-SNP marginals might vote Labour tactically to keep the SNP out (but there are also rumblings that they might vote SNP tactically to get rid of the Labour Executive), though it remains to be seen whether either of these approaches will be reciprocated. Can Labour voters bring themselves to vote Tory in Perth or Galloway? Can SNP supporters bring themselves to vote Tory in Dumfries? The answer to both questions is probably not, and that is Goldie's biggest problem.
An odd campaign for them, with some polls showing them as making major gains, and others showing them as not changing much, or even going down. The problem is that they are seen as likely to be in government whatever happens, and that a Liberal Democrat vote is largely a vote for another party to lead the government. Logically, then, it's sensible to vote for the Party whose Leader you actually want to see as First Minister. Moreover, they went into the campaign attacking the referendum and independence, and so antagonised the SNP and potential SNP supporters. Then after Alex Salmond raised the possibility of a multi-option referendum, their stance softened, and they conceded that the largest party has the right to form a government. Once that happened, Labour turned its guns on the LibDems, but they're still touting LibDem support on a tactical 'Save the Union' basis. So the LibDems have attracted flak from both sides. To make matters worse, as the Tories have made themselves irrelevant by being certain to be in Opposition, so the LibDems have become irrelevant by being certain to be in Government. Perhaps there's a sense that rather than voting for the monkey, it's better to choose the organ grinder. However, they might get some support as a liberal, radical counterbalance to Labour, or as a Unionist counterbalance to the SNP, so this monkey way yet have clout.
The Greens have been present, but reasonably quiet. However, they have dropped a bombshell by raising the possibility of going into formal Coalition with someone after the election, showing that they mean business. While early polls forecast a near wipeout, with one or at most two MSPs surviving, more recent once have put them in the 5-10 bracket, giving them far more influence. The sewage spill in the Firth of Forth will be a small gift for them in the Lothians. Meanwhile, keep your eye on Glasgow Kelvin, where the Greens are fielding a Constituency candidate for the first time.
SSP & Solidarity
I've conflated them, which is naughty, but who cares? The main difference between the two parties is that the former despises Tommy Sheridan and the latter adores him. The SSP have actually outpolled Solidarity for most of the campaign, but it's not quite clear if that's genuine or if people still think that the SSP is still Tommy Sheridan's party. Either way, neither Party has covered themselves in glory: their combined vote in most polls is lower than the SSP vote in 2003. For the SSP, despite Bernard Ponsonby's attempts to draw Colin Fox into either criticising or endorsing Solidarity as a second choice for SSP voters, Fox stayed silent, but Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane have not missed an opportunity to stick the boot into Tommy Sheridan. So Fox has come out of this reasonably well and with more dignity than I expected, perhaps I've underestimated him and his Party, but they still need to grow up if they're to get any seats. As for Solidarity, Tommy Sheridan hasn't missed an opportunity to bitch about the SSP, and he did not show the restraint that Colin Fox did when Ponsonby asked if Solidarity voters should view the SSP as a second choice. Rosemary Byrne has avoided the controversy as best she can, but the problem is the partnership. Solidarity is supposed to have two leaders, Sheridan and Byrne. In seven of the eight regions, the Party is standing as 'Solidarity - Tommy Sheridan'. Only in the South, Byrne's region, does she even get a mention as 'Solidarity - Rosemary Byrne'. Sheridan might be viewed as Solidarity's biggest asset, but he's shown himself to be childish and spiteful in this campaign, and the fact that he's blatantly the senior partner in the Party won't help matters. Perhaps Carolyn Leckie had a point after all, and perhaps, just perhaps, Sheridan can be as much of a liability as an asset. More importantly, the bickering that only Colin Fox and Rosemary Byrne have even tried to avoid will only serve to put off socialist voters, who will either vote for someone else or stay at home.
29 April 2007