9 August 2010

Holyrood poll & thoughts on Gray's albatross

God save thee, ancient Mariner
From the fiends, that plague thee thus
Why look'st thou so? - With my crossbow
I shot the ALBATROSS.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner

"Fortune vomits on my eiderdown once more". In the darkling watches of the night, you work up a wee post and with a wearied yawn, resolve to press the publish button come the morning. Too late! The fatal error is made. As you shut your eyes, a cruel glister illuminates the thrawn peepers of the bilious Goddess of Chance. Gleefully, she sickens your best laid schemes. With the sudden appearance of the unanticipated, She regurgitates a glutinous bolt from the blue. Somewhere, in the undergrowth, I'm sure a proverbial blogging mouse is sharing my vexation, with much effing and blinding.

My case was this. I had thought to argue that in public polling terms, we Scots were still gambolling in the wake and spray of the 2010 Westminster election and that much remained uncertain in the meanwhile. In particular, it seemed to me that while public appetites have been whetted for the 2011 Holyrood poll, our stomachs have not yet started their hollow grumble in earnest and immediate anticipation. Moreover, various election-type questions aren't being asked at this stage. In particular, I have in mind a question that I confidently predict Iain Gray will come to loathe - who do you think would make the best First Minister? We can be lofty about it if we like, proclaim ourselves wedded to policy, detail, substance. That's spiffing, as far as it goes. However, I doubt it will placate an enquiring press, all too disposed to trade in binary political options. As the campaign solidifies and polling day approaches, it seems likely that the press will increasingly present the election as primarily a contest between Labour and the SNP for government, between two candidates for First Minister - no doubt seasoned in the UK nationals with an eye for the coalition story. Even Labour supporters must be mildly anxious about their leader in the Scottish Parliament. With Jim Murphy's authority turned to dust by Labour's heave-ho, you might think Gray has the opportunity to demonstrate his rugged independence and capacity for leadership, relieved of the perpetual presence of his sepulchral associate. However, it isn't so easy to emerge from your own shadow. Even if Labour continues to fare well in Scottish polls, his lack of prominence and lack of charm will be a difficult itch to sooth and his obscurity may well come to hang about the party's neck like a Gray albatross.

Labour supporters, I fancy, will argue that all of this is unfair, that he is a substantial fellow unfairly neglected, that the press would be wormeaten and vacuous and trivial to focus on such matters of personality in the midst of the campaign. For myself, I read Gray as a man who may be dispositionally more virtuous than leadership of the Labour party is making him. There he has been snarling, disingenuous, ungenerous. I take no comfort in the corruption of a better nature. Nor do I think this reactionary condemnatory character he is playing terribly becomes him. I may be mistaken, of course. I have no personal knowledge of the man and my hunch may be an overgenerous one. Either way, I'm a firm believer that the face grows and hardens into the mask it wears. In the end, it is that leering phizog, its words and deeds, which we must judge. That, more or less, was what I was going to argue, sans polling assistance. Until this morning, that is, when the sun came up and brought with it a copy of the Herald, in which snippets of a new poll conducted by TNS-BMR into Holyrood voting intentions was published. For reference, in case you've not seen them already, here are the percentages:

Labour 46%
SNP 32%
Liberal Democrats 11%
Tories 10%

List Vote
Labour 42%
SNP 30%
Liberal Democrats 12%
Tories 11%

There remains an insistent, distinctly Westminster-centric undertow here, the Herald turning the condensed percentages into a story about the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, rather than focus on the "domestic"  implications of a Labour lead in Holyrood. My sense is that the good ship Westminster continues to buffet the boat of Scottish democracy. While the metropolitan media can be counted on to continue to do so right up until election day, we've not yet matured into the more urgent and more critical phase, immediately anticipating the election and our choices. As to the figures themselves, they show that the SNP has significant work to do. There is no question about that. Although irritatingly the newspaper keeps the detail to itself, significantly, the Herald notes that:

"The poll suggests that one reason for the gap between Labour and the SNP is that the Nationalists are struggling to attract enough female voters. Women were almost twice as likely to vote Labour as SNP."

Regular readers will know, this marked gender gap in SNP support was a subject I addressed just last week. These latest figures will only serve to corroborate the urgency of these concerns.


  1. Should oor Eck go for a make-over? Lose two, er perhaps three, stone? Start working out and having photo shoots naked to the waist a la Putin?
    He might get the gay vote as well...

  2. Conan
    ....or he could even start talking about the practical social and economic benefits of Independence!

  3. What a vivid suggestion, Conan! From yourself, I'd expect nothing less. I've no doubt that SNP high command regularly pore over my sage witterings here. I imagine a high level strategy group is forming as I type, considering specific poses for Eck - possibly mounted atop some sort of racy car bonnet - and per your advice, selecting a flattering soft-focus lens for the bosom-out shots ...

  4. ... alternatively, we could go with Cruachan's approach. Or perhaps some innovative combination of the two?

  5. Lallands

    I believe you are right about the recent poll. It seems to be a gut reaction to the UK coalition as opposed to the future fight with the SNP, although I do believe the SNP have a bit of a mountain to climb in the months ahead.

    Gray does not have Salmond's charisma or Sturgeon's level-headedness, and that will definitely play in the media before next year's election. But the SNP have to find something else besides to overturn this lead.

    There is a definite cross-border split in how the UK coalition is viewed and the SNP could exploit this by being more explicit about how a financially-autonomous Scotland would pursue more centre-left policies. Linked to that is Gray's admission yesterday...

    Mr Gray stated that the Lib Dem deal with the Tories at UK level would not prevent a deal at Holyrood, saying: "I don’t see why that’s not possible."

    How then would that fill the aspirations of the 72% of those polled who clearly dislike what they are seeing at Westminster. Some part of Con/Lib UK policy would clearly have to be fitted into Lab/Lib policy at Holyrood!

  6. Good points, Andrew.

    I agree that we need to pull up our socks and undeniably there is a spot of electoral hiking to be done on our part. Mostly, I mentioned Gray's inadequacies by way of prophecy and anticipation, not to recommend that ad homimens against him form the central plank of the SNP strategy. To echo that old legal maxim, my sense is that "res ipsa loquitur" - Iain Gray's difficulties will speak for themselves.

    In the negative campaigning stakes, the SNP simply doesn't have Labour's talent for it. Play negative, and we lose without question. While Labour's reported lead in this poll is significant, my sense is that it that their lead is still soft. A well-run, compelling campaign can change that, come polling day.

  7. LPW

    In the 2011 election I think the SNP need to watch that they do not go into the election thinking that Iain Gray being as poor as he is will save them. Never forget that the Labour leader at the general election was one of the worst Prime Ministers and Chancellors in living memory and Scots still voted for him in record numbers.

    Elect the guy who was the cause of the need for cuts to save Scotland from cuts, you could not make it up.

    We are already loosing the propaganda battle on cuts. Now is the time to start highlighting the fact that Scotland is taking the cuts medicine for the English disease.

    I know nine months is a long time in anything, not just politics, but we are beginning to give the appearance that we are sleepwalking towards defeat. Time to wake up and start campaigning.

  8. Cruachan, Lallands, the Declaration of Arbroath on a muscle t-shirt?
    Or perhaps a mankini...

  9. I don't think Gray's shortcomings ipsae loquuntur as the media - and the BBC in particular - don't make anything of them. During the Parliamentary session week after week, the BB shows clips of him doughtily spitting fire at his podium, without then going to show how Eck subsequently wipes the floor with him. Nor is there much publicity for the occasions when his accusations are nonsense, or backfire. So we can't rely on that. I too would like to think that someone would point out to a public who one might think must be waking up to that fact by now, that the UK is a hopeless basket case. But we can rely neither on the public actually being that awake, nor on this fact being pointed out to them, even by the SNP. I'm afraid people voted Labour out in 2007 only because they had recent experience of how cripplingly limited and vision-free they were. But they are forgetting, and they don't necessarily see a Lab-Lib coalition in Scotland as incompatible with a Con-Lib coalition in Westmidden - see the maunderings of that idiot, or congeries of idiots, MacCaig, in the Oban Times, for example. Frankly I imagine they will need another burst of Labour to remind them of how awful they were. On the bright side, however, even a Labour Government in Scotland has no choice now but to be thirled to a nationalist narrative.

  10. Dubbieside,

    I agree with you that relying on Gray to win you the election is a bad idea - for either party. While those of us who have addicts' attentiveness to Scots politics may well have other complaints to lodge against LOLITSP, I fancy that most folk would struggle to pick him out of a line-up. Nine months is indeed a long time, and we are in the placid depths of the summer recess. Things ought to pep up soon.

  11. I'm not surprised by the poll because out canvassing we find that people are still very definitely thinking in Westminster terms i.e Labour/Tory.

    Things will obviously change as we get into the Holyrood elections and start discussing policy.

    Labour are all over the place on policy and are going to find it increasingly agonising as, to have any credibility at all, they are going to have to say what they would cut. My guess is that they will go for free personal care. That is an interesting one given the discussions around gender.

    However, looking beyond May 2011 and whoever gets the most votes, I think it is becoming increasingly obvious to both SNP and Labour activists that we are going to have to find a way for the SNP and Labour to work together to steer a course over the next few years which protects basic Scottish values. This may be the biggest challenge we have ever faced as a party and it may also be the biggest challenge Scottish Labour has faced. But we are going to have to do it.

  12. I'm sure all flattering options are being considered Conan!

    I'm hearing uncorroborated reports that the EBC (Eck Beautification Committee) is seriously considering some sort of patriotic body art - a distorted saltire across the paunch for example - so the t-shirt can be dispensed with and those soon-to-be-abs can be shown off in the cold highland air...

  13. Elegant points, am firinn, although I don't make a habit of reading the Oban Times these days, I'm afraid!

    Admittedly spare coverage of Gray's previous parliamentary mischief aside, personally I'd be surprised if some version of the problem I outlined didn't become at least a background feature of the campaign. Particularly given the leadership-fetish fostered by the media, and the recent innovation of Westminster leaders' debates, its too obvious a story to miss. However, I agree with yourself and other commenters - we shouldn't pin any substantive hopes on it.

  14. Andrew made a similar argument the other day Indy, in response to another post. An obvious difficulty will be presented by Labour's fondness for Tartan Tory rhetoric and "Salmond cuts". By alleging equivalence, they're attempting to set themselves apart, the only hope. Problematically, proportionality ruins such a strategy, as Labour alone will never be able to do it. A good willed and cooperative combination between Labour and the SNP could be a powerful engine of resistance. As you say, overcoming the internecine dislikes and suspicions and jealousies would be a worthy task. And leave Scottish democracy the better for it, I reckon.

  15. Is it really a question of an alleged female vote deficit or more of an east - west deficit? I've always wondered if 'Glasgow's miles better' referred to their apparently cherished physical distance from Scotland's capital. Despite a few landmark SNP successes in the west - it remains tiger-country for the non-unionist causes while the east provides a more kittenish reception.

    Without the spectre of Mr Murphy looming out of the 'Scottish Office' to goad Labour's latent reflex to reject all things that appear to be Edinocentric Scottish - including the SNP in particular - Mr Murphy's demotion may be a real factor next May.

    Mr Gray and his albatross ought to be easy pickings as I cannot believe who ever turfs up from the UK Labour brotherly love beauty contest will have much to offer.

    A taxidermist ancestor of mine on the Antartic expedion to the South Pole with William Bruce aboard the Scotia (1907) stuffed quite a few albatross (they remain in the National Museum of Scotland) and even as a female I intend to follow his excellent example with a political twist.

  16. I always appreciate your comments, Clarinda. They've always got a gremlin vivaciousness to them!

    On your first question, there is statistical evidence of the gender gap. I've no knowledge, however, about how that gap may be geographically spread. It may be that a more precise analysis in terms of self-identifying social classes and area would be possible. At least for those with access to the polling breakdowns and time on their hands to treat it more fully.

    Another obvious dimension to your Murphy point is Gray himself - a Lothians man, born in Edinburgh, representing an East Lothians constituency. Hardly in a healthy position - even obliquely - to give the anti-Edinburgh bit another try. Then again, think back to his first words when he was elected LOLITSP. He accused Eck of being an elite villain, so who knows what new approaches he might "give a shot". I quote, just in case this smashing bit of oratory hasn't quite stuck in your memory...

    "I started this campaign with a simple statement. I am as Scottish as Alex Salmond. But our story is different.

    While Alex Salmond was studying the dismal science - economics - in the academic birthplace of Thatcherism, I was studying natural science in the academic home of the enlightenment. While Alex Salmond was an official in the Scottish office, I was learning to be a teacher in a tough school and a community activist in the biggest council house scheme in Edinburgh. While he moved to the Royal Bank of Scotland I moved to Mozambique where I taught for two years in a country literally fighting for its life. While he spent the eighties and nineties developing the tricks of politics in Westminster, I spent them developing my values working for Oxfam..."

    Etcetera, etcetera...

  17. My missus hates Alex Salmond, and will not vote SNP for that reason. Apparently his smug shouty demeanor is a turn of as is his preference for the elderly lady, he comes across to the female voter as creepy.

    For that reason and many others, this SNP voter thinks that Salmond should stand aside in the interest of Scotland and let Nicola lead us to independence. She will carry the female vote with her. But will Salmonds ego let him? Rather like Brown, I think he will cling on to the bitter end, and defeat next May will be the only thing to save the SNP from him.

  18. There's no arguing with that one, Key bored warrior, if her mind is made up! It should be hardly controversial to admit that the Maximum Eck is a potentially divisive figure. I don't share your view that the balance of that division has now shaded into the negative, however. Also, come the day that he does leave, I'd like to see Nicola given a run for her money and see what she's got to say.