Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Manifestos, Election Broadcasts, and a Sandwich Shop: The Scottish Campaign Marches on...

Well I said I’d talk about the manifestoes when they were all out, and a fair few other things have happened since my discussion of the Scottish campaign a couple of weeks back.

Firstly, one poll has taken place since I wrote that post. A new YouGov poll, which has figures of SNP 40% (nc) Labour 37% (-2) Conservatives 11% (nc) Lib Dem 8% (+3) on the constituency vote, and SNP 35% (+3) Labour 33% (-6) Conservative 12% (nc) Lib Dem 7% (+2) Greens 6% (nc) (changes since last YouGov poll). According to Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University this would produce 55 (+8) seats for the SNP, 49 (+3) for Labour, 14 (-3) for the Tories, 6 (-10) for the Lib Dems and 5 (+3) for the Greens (changes from 2007 result). My suspicions about the last YouGov poll seem to be correct – the Lib Dems bounce back but my working view was that it was a bit of a rogue for the party. It’s still not a great result for the party, though regional variations may save them some seats. The big difference is that the SNP are now in the lead. To be fair the lead in both sets of the poll is within the margin of error, and polls for Holyrood have historically had a slight tendency to overestimate the SNP and underestimate the Tories. Indeed my fellow seat projector of Scottish elections, Jeff Breslin, over at the rather good Better Nation blog basically thinks the Labour Party and SNP are neck and neck, a statement I think I’d agree with. That said, the momentum now appears to be with Salmond, and as more polls come out it will be interesting to see if they confirm this as a trend. I commented in my last post extensively on the four main party leaders and on the fact that Salmond was the most popular First Minister candidate, and this is the point. The reality is that Labour is only polling as well as it is because there is a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition at Westminster. I dread to think where they’d be if they’d won another term.

The momentum against Labour may also be partially down to this:

This moment has perhaps been the moment of the campaign so far, as Labour leader Iain Gray is chased into a sandwich shop by anti-cuts protesters, hardly an encouraging spectacle. As I said in my last Scottish campaign post Panelbase tested recognition of Scottish party leaders by showing respondents pictures of the leaders. I remind readers that only 27% recognised Iain Gray. Basically Scots are not deeply familiar with the man and for many this will their first exposure.

The Labour Party, noting their obvious deficiency in the personality stakes, have been describing the SNP campaign as one fought on personalities, and accusing the SNP of being a one man band. I have to admit I smile whenever I see or hear Salmond’s typical response that his cabinet ministers are better known than Labour’s Shadows, accusing Labour of being a ‘no man band’, pointing to the recognition of Nicola Sturgeon and then asking how many people know who Iain Gray’s deputy is. On Radio 5 ‘s Pienarr’s politics this week Salmond even asked John Pienarr if he knew who Gray’s deputy was and Pienarr had to admit he had no idea.

One other big advantage the SNP has is it’s won the support of the Scottish Sun. I’m not of the opinion that the endorsement of newspapers shifts that many votes directly. However the Sun, and Rupert Murdoch’s endorsement usually has two roles. Firstly it’s generally a prediction of who will win the election. The Murdoch Empire seeks to maintain an image of power and relevancy and so it endorses likely winners in the view it will have increased influence over the government, claiming that the government was in power because it was ‘The Sun wot won it’. Yet once the Murdoch Press has endorsed a party it tends to campaign for that party with extraordinary urgency, because if a Murdoch endorsed party were to ever fail it would crack the edifice of power Murdoch seeks to create.

One other point worth remembering is that the YouGov poll above was done AFTER Labour’s manifesto launch, but BEFORE the SNP’s, and on that note let’s have a quick look through the manifestoes, and, for a bonus, the PEBs.

The first manifesto launched was the Scottish Conservative’s so let’s start with that. The Scottish Conservative manifesto is unashamedly pro-enterprise. All the main points are ways to grow the economy and reduce public spending in the light of the economic downturn. This is comfortable territory for the Tories, so it’s a natural fit. Amongst their ideas includes an increase in business subsidies, a target of 25% of Scottish government and local government contracts being awarded to small business, a review of the planning system (to be ‘business-led’). Amongst cost-cutting ideas are increasing the age for a bus pass, a ‘graduate contribution’ (a tuition fee, basically) capped at £4,000 a year (the Tories claim it will average closer to £3,600) and lowering the school leaving age to 14. The latter promise strikes me as most likely to get flack, as it may be seen as likely to exacerbate youth unemployment. The Tories, however, argue that many 14 year olds are simply ‘wasting their time’ until they hit 16. You can read the full manifesto here and the BBC has a bullet point version here. For a bonus here’s the Scottish Conservative’s PEB this year:

It clearly concentrates very much on ‘Brand Annabel’ (though Cameron appears too) showing the Scottish Conservative leader at home and around Scotland, indeed Cameron is the only other person who appears in it. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Goldie appears to be much more popular than her party North of the border so it makes sense for the party to push her hard.

The next day the party’s Westminster coalition partners, the Lib Dems unveiled their manifesto. In a similar vein to the Conservative one it is aimed at jobs, though local services are also accentuated. The party promises 100,000 new jobs, promising to use a reform (some would say privatisation) of the nationalised Scottish Water to find the money for it. Other big promises include a transfer of power to local government (a typical Lib Dem policy), a reform of business regulation, a £250 million ‘early invention’ fund for kids, support for same-sex marriage, and opposition to a single national police force (which all the other Holyrood parties, bar the Greens, support. The manifesto is basically centrist, I’d say, and a bit of a move to the right for the Scottish Lib Dems who have usually tended to lean to the left of the UK party. This may represent an acceptance by the party that the party’s left is lost, or it may simply be the result of a longer term trend, the party has been drifting rightwards for a while now. Full manifesto here, BBC bullet point version here.

Their Party Election Broadcast is a rather simple affair; just their leader, Tavish Scott, and Charles Kennedy talking to camera, mostly against plans for a single national police force. This is an issue close to the hearts of both their activists (who tend to be localists by inclination) but also their rural base which is typically suspicious of centralisation, whether towards Westminster or Holyrood. Campaigning on this subject thus strikes me as something of a ‘core vote’ strategy, designed to get the party’s traditional support motivated to support the party.

The day after that Labour launched their manifesto. It’s concerned very much with youth unemployment. The manifesto also includes a merging of a large number of local services to reduce cost, a new ‘national care service’ for the elderly, and most controversially a policy that all knife carriers be jailed. Straight Statistics, a campaign formed by statisticians and journalists, has contested Labour’s cost of knife crime to Scotland. Labour suggests knife crime costs Scotland £500 million a year, compared to the £20 million cost of jailing all knife carriers. Straight Statistics contends this figure is fifty times bigger than reality, and the issue was picked up by Newsnight Scotland. The manifesto strikes me as a mix of Old and New Labour, with public sector reform to save money and big spending projects. It also has populist elements, particularly in terms of the party’s tough on crime agenda. Full manifesto, or BBC’s ‘At a Glance’.

Labour’s had two, broadly similar, PEBs. They concentrate on Gray’s personal background, protecting Scotland from the Tories, with a clear focus on Labour’s working class base, who, after all, have won it many elections up here before.

The SNP launched their manifesto almost a week later than the others. It sticks to traditional SNP themes like council tax (extending the party’s freeze in the tax for another 5 years), and making Scottish energy 100% renewable by 2020. The manifesto also promises £2.5 billion worth of capital spending, and spend £1 billion more on the NHS over four years. If I have a criticism it is that there seems to be a lot of spending commitments and not much explanation of how it’ll be paid for (not to mention the deficit). That said, this is something all the parties are at least somewhat guilty of. Full SNP manifesto and the BBC’s briefer version.

The SNP broadcast features what are clearly actors in a pub scene discussing the last four years of Scottish Government in slightly mock humourous but glowing terms before Alex Salmond turns up the bar and then appears to become the voice of God. I think it’s a good broadcast, kind of amusing, and positive (the broadcast never references any other party concentrating purely on the SNP’s record).

Lastly came the Greens. They are backing a new land value tax to replace council tax and business rates and a 0.5% raise in income tax to pay to protect public services from taxation. They are also promising to insulate every Scottish home to create jobs, and combat climate change, as well as typical Green stuff about protecting local services, opposing nuclear and coal fire power and things like a £7.15 living wage.

I have to admit I really like the Green Party Broadcast, it’s really positive and very professional. Clearly the party has spent a lot of money on it, but my immediate suspicion is that this may be because it has to make up for a lack of local infrastructure. While the other parties have developed significant ground war operations over the years the Greens lack in this area and so for many voters the PEB is their one chance for the Greens to impress on them their arguments, something aided by the party not appearing in debates and generally been left more out in the cold than the other parties as they are not treated as a ‘major’ party.

Additionally I should also note that the BBC now have a pretty handy manifesto comparison tool.

It should also be noted that the manifestoes are share a few things in common: they all agree to a council tax freeze with varying lengths of time and detail. They all agree to more renewable and they all want to ring-fence the NHS (about 1/3rd of the Scottish budget). The big problem is they all also promise to spend and while all of them state some cost-savings and revenue raising ideas much like last year’s general election I don’t really see any party fully laying out what they’d cut when they have to deal with increasing budget short-falls. Indeed this is something noted by a study by Glasgow University (the article on which I spotted as I was just about to post this).

The other point is that no party will get to implement 100% of its manifesto because its a proportional electoral system and the next government will be either a coalition or a minority government, so there is some likelihood that multiple policies from multiple parties will be put into force.


  1. pretty spot on analysis. the yougov poll you talk about actually had the two parties on constituency 38% and List 34% each before the new likelihood to vote yougov question. The ipsos mori poll tonight seems to be a rogue - as last year they had the SNP 2% ahead of Labour for Westminster and Labour got 22% more than the SNP! Scottish opinion polling is not great and lets many of us gamblers down when it comes to predictions!!!!!!

  2. I appreciate this helpful manifesto comparison.