This seems to me the rather surprising impression from reading about Labour’s manifesto for the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections. This was also confirmed by the Ian Gray personal political broadcast the same evening. For what both have in common is that Labour in Scotland has decided to focus their fire on the Tories. Which is rather strange given that the Tories have never been in power in Scotland since the start of devolution way back in 1999. The big two parties in Scotland are Labour and the SNP and the SNP is the party currently in government. So why the reluctance to take the fight to them?
This can only be because Labour know that in a straight Labour v SNP contest, the SNP would win quite handsomely. Recent opinion polls have confirmed that the SNP is winning considerable electoral support against Labour. However if the fight is between Labour and the Tories, then Labour win at a canter. This is essentially what happened last year at the UK general election. Scotland was the only part of the UK where the Labour vote held up or even increased. Labour presented itself as the only party which could stop the Tories from winning power at Westminster. However despite their success in Scotland, we still ended up with a Tory government, albeit in coalition with the LibDems.
Voting Labour last year did not stop the Tories winning power and nothing that happens in May in Scotland will remove the Tories from power in London. So why make opposing the Tories the central, almost the only plank of your campaign? It can only be a sign of desperation on the part of Labour to think this tactic can work again. Now that the Tories are in power in Westminster, who is more likely to stand up for Scotland - Labour or the SNP? Only likely to be one winner here. Perhaps the focus on the Tories is also further evidence that Labour in Scotland is still very much in thrall to its masters in London, where the Tories are the enemy.
As regards the commitments in the manifesto, there is nothing very radical or inspiring and a lot that seems impractical or very costly. The emphasis on economic renewal and job creation and the promise to eradicate youth unemployment by the end of the next parliament is very ambitious and to be welcomed if it can be achieved. However there is only a limited amount that any Scottish government can do in economic matters as these are almost wholly reserved powers for Westminster. It seems odd for a Unionist party to make the central plank of their promises something that is almost wholly dependent on what the Tory led Westminster government does. Labour can hardly start advocating for more and more economic and financial powers to be given to Scotland, can they? The SNP can though and no doubt will.
The manifesto also seems to contain some very badly thought out, and badly costed commitments. For example the policy to impose mandatory jail sentences for all those caught carrying knives in public. Neither Ian Gray nor Andy Kerr seem to have any real idea of just how many more prisoners this policy will mean nor just how much extra money it will require. Not to mention that senior police officers believe this policy could result in criminalising more people than it deters. If this policy is anything to go by, then Labour’s whole manifesto is an accident waiting to happen. For a more detailed analysis on this policy the ever informative Lallands Peat Worrier has some interesting facts and comments.