Friday, 7 November 2008

Is the Transformation Now Complete?

Scottish Politics has been turned on its head in the last two years. I believe the campaign and result in Glenrothes demonstrate that the SNP and Labour have now swapped roles in that time.

By that I mean that, in Scotland at least, the SNP are now seen as the party of Government and the Labour Party are now seen as the party of protest. More importantly, the approaches that they settled on for the Glenrothes campaign confirms that the parties see themselves in those roles too.

The SNP may have been able to win Glenrothes if it had seen the threat of the home care issue earlier and dealt with it. They didn't. Although this was a costly tactical error, the strategy of pushing the positive and aspirational message was the correct one and will stand them in good stead for the future. The SNP stood as a party of government, being judged on its record and pointing the road to a better future.

This used to be the role of Labour as the SNP used the luxury of opposition to stir up grudge and grievance against the incumbent. More often than not it didn't work but occasionally when a powerful mix of circumstances conspired, a spectacular and unexpected result was delivered.

This sounds remarkably similar to what Labour achieved and how they achieved it in Glenrothes. Under a different political narrative the same campaign would not have worked. In a different constituency the same campaign would not have worked. At a different time the same campaign would not have worked. And, ultimately, it certainly won't work at a General Election.

Labour's only purpose in Scotland now appears to be to oppose the SNP. The comments of the increasingly objectionable Jim Murphy pretty much confirms that. Incidentally, the way that man can keep a straight face when he calls Alex Salmond smug is a lesson to us all in brassneckery.

For the SNP, the challenge is to accept the Glenrothes result as a likely hazard of incumbency and resist the temptation to return to the past days of grievance politics. It must remain positive but there is a certain political naivety that needs to be addressed too.

It should have been possible for the SNP to have identified the home care issue as a likely threat at the outset. Had it done so, the selection of Peter Grant (solid candidate though he was) might not have seemed such a good idea. This may sound like hindsight but can the SNP put its collective hand on its heart and say that there was a comprehensive analysis of the political risks and threats before the candidate was selected?

My summary is that the SNP need to stick to their current strategy but try to build a bit more political maturity into their campaign planning. Labour, on the other hand, look destined to remain on the back foot, trying to exploit tactical opportunities as and when they come along in the hope that it buys enough time for them to see out the economic storm.

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