LABOUR’S notorious “Ed Stone” – which came to symbolise Ed Miliband’s doomed general election campaign – was inspired by another rock unveiled by Alex Salmond at Heriot-Watt University, a new book claims.
The 8.5ft limestone slab, carved with six key Labour pledges was unveiled just days before polling day last May in a bid to persuade voters the party would restore trust in politics.
But it was widely mocked, with opponents likening it to a tombstone and dubbing it a “policy cenotaph” and “the heaviest suicide note in history”.
Now a ringside account of Labour’s election campaign by BBC political journalist Iain Watson has claimed the idea came from Mr Salmond’s visit to Heriot-Watt – his last official engagement as First Minister – when he unveiled a rock carved with his own pledge on university fees: “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students.”
The finger of blame for the Ed Stone has been pointed at Mr Miliband’s policy advisor Torsten Bell.
And the new book says: “The concept had come from Scotland where Torsten Bell had been drafted in towards the end of a panicky referendum campaign the previous year.
“On the day Alex Salmond was about to hand over power to Nicola Sturgeon the far-from-publicity-shy First Minister unveiled yes, an actual stone at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, commemorating what he regarded as his biggest achievement in office – free tuition for Scottish-based students. Now that got Labour strategists thinking.
“There were discussions about taking a chip of Salmond’s block and putting a tuition fee cut in England in stone, the better to embarrass Nick Clegg. In the end it was decided to put all the pledges on it.”
But Mr Watson admits: “I have spoken to people at the heart of the decision-making process and still can’t precisely establish when the stone went from an idea in to action.”
He says initially the idea might have been a mock stone in a newspaper advert or on a poster – like The Vow on more powers for Holyrood – rather than a real rock.
“No-one was stopping to think of the wider reaction,” continues the book. “Certainly there were modifications. Ed Miliband himself didn’t want it to be the height of a grave stone, for obvious reasons – so, at eight feet and six inches tall, it was almost on the scale of a mausoleum.
“There seemed to be incredulity it would ever happen – then, ‘Torsten knew this stone mason . . .’ – who turned out to be a Conservative supporter.”
The stone was unveiled in Hastings, a key marginal on the south coast of England, and it was said to have been destined for the garden of 10 Downing Street if Labour had won the election.
After the election, the stone was eventually tracked down to a warehouse on a south London industrial estate ironically called Westminster.