Brian Monteith: Early political grave for Labour big guns

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There is a growing sense of disbelief amongst many people I know that our country is going to the dogs. They cannot fathom how Labour is doing so badly in opinion polls as the general election approaches – facing a near or actual wipeout in Scotland – and why the SNP is doing so well, when its economic policies and record in government are patently so poor.

What is happening and why?

Firstly let’s look at the SNP. After some eight years of SNP government, where it has had the power to do what it wants in education, health, justice, transport, local government and more besides, it has abandoned many pledges (such as writing off student debt) and failed to meet others (reducing class sizes anyone?)

When it comes to broken promises, the SNP makes the Liberal Democrats look virtuous and yet nobody seems to notice or care – while Nick Clegg’s party is being defenestrated.

On the Scottish economy, the SNP wishes to simultaneously take the credit for the country recovering from the “great recession” despite it opposing the very measures that have brought the revival about – while girning and groaning that it does not have the economic levers to make a difference. Both positions cannot be true.

The only policy the SNP had that might effect higher economic growth – proposing to cut corporation tax by three points below the UK rate – has been abandoned. Meanwhile the nominal Scottish public finances will have to be bailed out by the UK Treasury after the collapse of the oil price that the SNP based its budgets on. We should be grateful Scotland voted No to independence last year or there would soon be food banks on every street corner.

And yet nobody seems to care about the failure of SNP economic policy or Nicola Sturgeon’s ignorance of basic economic laws. In any previous electoral period, her party’s popularity could have expected to implode, and yet it continues to enjoy its highest ever level of support backed up by tens of thousands of new members inspired by the referendum campaign.

The Labour Party has not yet found an answer to the SNP surge – and looks to be running out of time before next Thursday. Surely the polls must be wrong, and yet they are persistent? Surely the voters will stay faithful on the day, and yet I hear of Labour candidates that have already thrown in the towel.

Big Labour beasts are about to be brought down, careers ended, political dreams shattered and Labour leaders cannot fathom it. Let me help them with my own take on it.

In England, the Conservative Party has been deeply split by the actions of its leader David Cameron, resulting in the ascendancy of the anti-establishment party Ukip. Voters could simply have gone over to Labour, but Labour is viewed as being complicit in creating the “great recession” and so is not trusted. Thanks to the voting system, Ukip will struggle to win many seats and thanks to the economic recovery David Cameron is still in with a chance of remaining in power. But for that recovery, engineered by Chancellor George Osborne, the Conservatives would now be toast.

In Scotland we have just had a referendum where the United Kingdom – warts and all – was endorsed, but this has in itself allowed No voters the luxury of being able to vote SNP, believing they will not be putting the Union at risk. They know that if there is a second referendum they can vote No again. Indeed the latest opinion polls show a majority against a second referendum and support for independence now at only 41 per cent. The trend is for it to fall further.

So despite the SNP’s poor record in government, its repeated breaking of promises and its abject failure to understand economic policy it is being given another chance. While it is different from Ukip in many ways, it is similar in one key respect – for Scots it remains the anti-establishment party.

The electorate no longer trusts Scottish Labour and it certainly does not trust Ed Miliband – who has lower personal ratings in Scotland than David Cameron. It has come to believe that it is worth voting for the SNP – which claims it will back Labour at Westminster – rather than vote for Labour itself. Scots see the SNP as more Labour than Labour and more Scottish than Scottish Labour.

Meanwhile, the Conservative vote in Scotland is holding up well and may even be increasing as people reward it for the improvements in the economy and standing up to the SNP.

Labour is therefore being squeezed by the SNP and the Greens on the left and even losing aspirational voters to the Tories on the right. Jim Murphy’s many promises are simply not believed and, having taken too long to deny he would cut deals with the SNP, Ed Miliband has allowed them a bridgehead from which they are now breaking out and conquering all before them.

For many voters, supporting the SNP may be an experiment, but for Labour politicians this will not so much be going for an early bath as going to an early political grave.