Is the SNP campaign of 2015 the mirror image of the campaign Scottish Labour wanted - and thought it was running - in 2011? Unconvinced? Appalled at the apparent illogicality of the proposition? Understandable, on the evidence -- but please bear with me.
Over the last few days, I have been struck by the unexpected similarities in the logic of the two campaigns. The one a calamity - the other a seeming success - but both effectively rely on mobilising similar feelings and logics in the electorate. Where Scottish Labour crashed and burned, the SNP look likely to net a healthy share of Westminster constituencies. Certainly more than the six we managed to secure in 2010.
By 2011, Scottish Labour had admittedly shed two leaders and acquired a third. This was unedifying, messy, and characterised by its awkward marches and countermarches of policy. But the polls were initially friendly. In 2010, from Gordon Brown's bloodied and defensive crouch, the electorate had handed Labour a stonking victory. The Nationalists were confounded. Our ghastly "More Nats less Cuts" slogan had all the ferocity of a butterknife. The "local champions" riff -- a dud. The punters weren't listening, and backed Broon in the face of David Cameron, and his allies in the reactionary media.
It was a cruel misdirection on our part, appealing to the lizard brained part of the People's Party, which told them that their current predicament in Holyrood was like an April shower -- soon melted, evanescent. The sturdy old oxen logic of tribalism, loyalty, and dogged adherence to the cause would soon revive. The people would repent of their error, and return. They would, as Margaret Curran said at the time, "come home to Labour", sheepishly, prodigal, but forgiven their trespasses. The old benedictions - interrupted but not forgotten.
In my experience, the best way to lie to people is to tell them something which they desperately want to be true. And Scottish Labour seemed only too delighted not to collapse into any self-reflection, and to tell itself these gentle, convenient stories about the predicament which Jack McConnell had blundered into.
After the narrow forty-seven to forty-six face off with the SNP in 2007, Iain Gray led his party into the Holyrood election on a platform of minimal difference. If the SNP wanted to freeze council tax? So do we (only slightly less so). The abolition of tuition fees? That too is here to stay. We're on students' side. Extra polis? A national boon. We won't reduce the numbers. But just think -- just think -- how much you would prefer to hear these policies from a Labour minister for finance, under a Labour first minister?
Your deid grandpappy would be proud. His grave would have no occasion to birl. The natural order of things would be restored. Labour's policy distinctiveness in 2007 came down to an uncosted, illiberal, irresponsible plan to introduce mandatory prison sentences for everyone caught in possession of knives. But at its core -- it was an SNP manifesto, reframed in a Labour voice. This is not interesting in itself -- but it is telling about how Labour strategists thought about the electorate they thought they were appealing to. They recognised the allure of a number of "big ticket" items in the Scottish Government's first budget, but assumed that, given a contest, people would prefer hearing these policies from a Labour First Minister, cabinet, and Scottish executive.
The assumption was that -- by borrowing the SNP's clothes, with an admixture of old Labour tribalism and loyalty -- the electors would come flocking back to the People's Party, remember the old hymns, and vote as Donald Dewar once intended. They judged folk wanted to back them. The unholy aberration of 2007 would be upended. The hated, temporary regime would be consigned to oblivion, and the old order would be restored. Difficult questions need not be asked. Fundamental change in the organisation was unnecessary. It was a quirk of the numbers and, as Euan McColm recalls in today's Scotland on Sunday, a few iffy, wet ballots from Arran.
It's always tempting to compare Scottish Labour to the Bourbon monarchs of France, and their ideological hangers on and adherents. As the old snake Talleyrand once said, after their decapitation and dethronement, "they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing". There is something strangely of the west of Scotland, Labour municipal cooncillor or parliamentarian about the portly, self-assured and slightly glaikit figure of King Louis XVIII.
As is so often the case, it is our unquestioned assumptions which eventually get us crucified -- and the central assumption of Gray's 2011 campaign proved faulty. There was the sandwich shop, of course, Gray's own limitations, and a shaky statistical basis for the knife policy -- but it was the assumed allegiance and the assumed preference for a Labour government in Holyrood which proved devastating. It turned out that the Scottish electorate of 2011 had learned to disregard their fealty to the ancien régime. They looked at Gray, and at Salmond and Sturgeon, and found they preferred the SNP incumbents they had only very modestly backed in 2007. Like his campaign, Gray's assumptions imploded.
Scottish Labour's 2007 manifesto was defined by their opponents. 2015's SNP manifesto could only have been published after Labour's 2015 proposals. It calculates, with caveats, that the SNP is now regarded as better placed, and better trusted, to realise and extend these aspirations than the UK Labour party. The 2015 SNP campaign effectively reverses and pursues Iain Gray's 2011 logic.
Of course, the parallels are not exact. The context is different. One some very big ticket items - public spending, the constitution, and Trident - the SNP is seriously at odds with Labour. The referendum has also helped to create a different, broader constituency for Nicola's message and a constituency which is justly vexed with Labour, its performance in office before 2010, and its often cautious and uninspiring performance in opposition since. But at bottom, the First Minister is now exploiting a logic of minimal different with her main opponents in precisely the same way in which Iain Gray hoped, in 2011, to lead Scottish Labour back into Bute House.
Only Thursday night and Friday morning will tell us whether Nicola's judgement -- that the Scottish people would now prefer to take this old social democratic medicine from her lips -- will be vindicated.