Sunday, 17 October 2010

The First Minister sets out his stall for 2011.......

On the closing day of the SNP conference in Perth today, First Minister Alex Salmond set out his approach to the upcoming Holyrood campaign in 2011. As with the Lib Dems, their conference came just before the Comprehensive Spending Review, due now this week.
Efforts to reduce spending in Scotland will be concentrated on reducing managers in the NHS by 25% over four years, and by what appeared to be a very strong hint at a public sector pay freeze or similiar...the details of which were not forthcoming just yet.
In addition, Wee Eck announced his intention to either reduce the number of Scottish Police forces or to create a single unitary police force across Scotland.....the FM was actually very vague as to what his intention was. The savings that might be forthcoming from this were not spelt out, but this is undeniably a policy that Lib Dems will hotly contest. Nationalism, by its very nature, is a centralizing force, so we should not be surprised by this. The policy will create a force where political manipulation is more likely, again, another Nat tactic. This policy debate will undoubtedly grow in importance through the election campaign, and be a real policy difference between the various parties.
There were some sweeties as well. Council tax will be frozen for two years, prescription charges will be reduced to zero by next April and all public sector workers are to receive a minimum £7.15 / hour wage. These are all big committments. The pay initiative puts the SNP and Labour on very similiar ground, ground which will be very hotly contested. By raising the threshold for paying tax however, we have done our bit already, and will no doubt add to this in other ways.
No doubt, this will all be electorally very popular, but can we afford it? We await John Swinney's budget in about a month's time, to see if he can pull all this together in a coherent manner.
There were two other aspects to the speech.
Firstly, it was evident that the SNP will target Labour Leader Iain Gray in a very personal manner. Eck will be portrayed as the big beast of the Scottish Parliament who can outshine his Labour counterpart, but the SNP need to be careful with this. Jack McConnell was unquestionably the big beast in the last Parliament until the tide turned against his party. The same can happen here as well. Eck is divisive, and while Iain Gray is not flamboyant, he clearly has the good organizational and delegation skills that Eck lacks and Labour have money behind them as well. This will be a contest of different styles, with the outcome uncertain. And of course in politics, there is always room for the unexpected as well, so these two should maybe not just assume that they personally are the only shows in town.
Finally, the First Minister rounded off his speech outlining his case for independance. It was a very personal account, muted and a bit flat if anything, not rabble rousing at all. He was probably trying to address the audience outside, appealing to their pragmatic side perhaps.
More likely, Eck will be aware this is probably now his last chance to acheive his dream of leading Scotland "to freedom", and the burden is weighing upon him.
The Scots are pragmatic. Yes. Pragmatism dictates that you dont jump in to the darkness without knowing where you are going to land. Eck was muted today because, in his heart, he knows he has the wrong message for the times, and the the independance horse is not one for backing at present.

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