As local election campaigns begin, the Scottish and Welsh Labour parties take radically different approaches to confronting the threat from nationalism.
Last month Left Foot Forward reported on a tale of two Tory parties, with Conservatives divided on how strongly the party should support “devo max” for Scotland. Yet with local elections just over two weeks away now, a tale of two Labour parties is developing too, as the campaigns of Scottish and Welsh Labour exhibit stark differences.
On the day that a YouGov poll (pdf) for The Sun had Labour enjoying its largest lead across the UK since the 2010 general election, the very same polling put the SNP in Scotland on 46%, leaving Labour trailing quite some distance on 28%.
Officially, Scottish Labour are seeking to pile the pressure on the SNP with all guns blazing.
“Frankly, if I might say so, after Alex Salmond passed on 90% of Tory cuts to local government, putting the SNP in charge of a local council is like putting Craig Whyte in charge of your tax return. You don’t need to be a football fan to be sick of empty promises which sound good at the time but end up making the future of your community uncertain.”
Challenging the SNP to make the local elections about more than just independence, Lamont concluded:
“Over the next two-and-a-half weeks at least, let’s try to put the debates about borders between our two countries aside and talk about the social barriers which blight lives. Let’s have a battle of ideas. Let’s discuss how we deliver social justice at a time of scarce resources. Let’s talk about real lives, real communities and how we can work together to improve them.”
Still, the reality that May 3rd looks set to be a bad night now seems to be dawning on Scottish Labour.
• Vote 2012: Welsh local council elections preview 7 Apr 2012
• The Tories in Scotland – right message, wrong messengers 26 Mar 2012
• Tories in Scotland: A tale of two parties 20 Mar 2012
“If the SNP do well in these elections and they will get more councillors this time because they have slightly more confidence or courage to put up a bigger number of candidates.
“Last time around they were very, very cautious, so using the last set of elections as a baseline is perhaps slightly false: in Glasgow they only put up one in every seat [in 2007]. This time I understand they’re putting up at least two, so that will be reflected in what’s a largely two-party political system.
“I am not dismissing in any way the significance of these elections, the challenge for Labour in getting Labour councillors elected, but I have to say to you, if the people of Scotland choose to vote for SNP councillors, that is their choice.
“The challenge for us is to make the political case for staying inside the United Kingdom, regardless of how many elected members there are of whatever stripe.”
Such an admission that the SNP will do well adds to a growing air of concern within Scottish Labour about how it tackles the nationalist threat. While Labour point to the party’s big beasts taking an active role in the Scottish campaign, Martin McCluskey, writing for LabourList, warns that “in 2012 Scottish Labour needs a strategy as sophisticated as Scots themselves”.
Equally, just as the party remains adamant in public that an SNP takeover of Glasgow City Council is not, as some would suggest, a done deal, David Torrance, writing for Total Politics, concludes:
“As one columnist recently put it, for Labour to lose control of Glasgow City Chambers would be ‘akin to waking up one morning and finding that Ian Paisley has taken control of the Vatican’.
“For the SNP, meanwhile, victory would be the perfect springboard for launching its formal ‘Yes’ to independence campaign, conveniently planned to get underway within weeks of May’s potentially game-changing local authority elections.”
Yet while Scottish Labour already look as if they are licking their proverbial wounds, in Wales, party members from Carwyn Jones down – free from the nationalist threat posed to their Scottish comrades – are spoiling for the kind of fight Labour enjoys most. Yesterday, Jones joined shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain in a full frontal attack on the Conservatives, and their Lib Dem partners in crime, with something approaching relish.
There is a clear sense throughout Welsh Labour that, despite being in government in Cardiff, it has gone into these local elections fighting an insurgency against the ConDem coalition at the other end of the M4.
Addressing candidates, community activists, endorsers and Labour activists in Newport before two days of intense campaigning, Jones declared:
“The local elections on May 3rd are vital for Welsh Labour – they are vital elections for Wales. Will your local council work with the Welsh Labour Government to shield the most vulnerable from the Tory assault? If it is Labour-run, then yes it will.
“Will your local council put education first, and ensure more money and support is reaching the classroom? If it is Labour-run, then yes it will. Will your local councillors be accessible, visible, will they listen to you and act on your priorities? If they are Welsh Labour councillors, then yes, they will. And of course, only a vote for Labour will send a message to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
“Only a vote for Labour will send a message that they need to act – as we are doing here in Wales – to tackle rising youth unemployment. Only a vote for Labour will send a message that Wales rejects the Tory / Lib Dem budget which gave tax breaks for millionaires, paid for by tax rises for our pensioners – and by the cruel cutting of support for families in work struggling to make ends meet.”
It’s a fight which also seems now to have the support of the Western Mail. With the Welsh Conservatives publishing their local election manifesto last week with a pledge to “put power in the hands of people and communities”, Matt Withers, Senedd correspondent at Media Wales, wrote at the weekend:
“There seem so many reasons to vote Conservative in next month’s council elections.
“Publishing their manifesto last week, the party set out a veritable Christmas list of things they would do if elected to take over town halls across Wales on May 3rd.
“They will freeze council tax, they promise. Fund schools directly. Freeze the Severn Bridge tolls. Put doctors and nurses in control and hospitals. And reform the planning system.
“And if that sounds too good to be true… well, it is.
“Because the Welsh Conservatives’ local election manifesto is made up almost entirely of policies it could not implement even if they won every single seat on all 21 councils which go to the polls next month.
“In fact, it seems all the party has done is regurgitate its manifesto from last year’s Assembly election and given it a new cover.”