I have been up in Scotland to see my Mum and speak at the Lennoxlove book festival. Scottish politics is interesting at the moment. Scotland on Sunday asked me for my take and the article they run today is printed here.
The success of political leadership lies on being able to capture the mood of your country, and persuade people that the values and vision you hold – and the policies you put forward – match both mood and people’s expectations.
By that yardstick, Alex Salmond’s campaign of four years ago, though it pains me to say it, has to be judged a success. It was a slick campaign helped by a war chest three times the size of Labour’s, and Salmond proved himself a slick communicator, always on message, always positioning himself on the populist side of as many causes as he could back.
As so many leaders do, however, he has found government harder than opposition. He can still do soundbite politics and, like David Cameron in Westminster, does not lack front or self-confidence.
But both, in different ways and on different timescales, are finding that the spin and the soundbites only take you so far. For enduring political success, such as the three general elections won by Labour, you need substance, a real understanding of people and the times we live in, and, above all, you need the detailed, thought-through policies that deliver change.
Like Tony Blair, Salmond had a long honeymoon. The media lapped up clarity of message, which he delivered well and which acted as a clever soundtrack to the music of an upbeat, devolved Scotland. But his big mistake was thinking he could get by being a good communicator with a man-of-the-people touch. Politicians who don’t have the policies and are unable to improve people’s lives get found out. Governments are judged on what they do. Words, however well polished, are never a substitute for real change.
Even as I write those words, I can see the Salmond guffaw – the one he deployed for Iain Gray’s attack last week that his limited and confused Budget put party before country – at the idea that I of all people should be talking about actions speaking louder than words.
I have just finished editing my next volume of diaries (out in January, now you ask), which cover the first two years of the Blair government. The five pledges that we made the centrepiece of our campaign – all met. Then Bank of England independence, a minimum wage, the New Deal, a Scottish Parliament, the beginnings of the biggest investment in schools and hospitals since the creation of the NHS, peace in Northern Ireland, welfare reform, gay rights, Kosovo, Sierra Leone… I could fill the whole of this page with a list of major changes made in a short period.
What can Salmond and the SNP say by way of comparison on record over the years they’ve had? They certainly raised expectations in 2007, but unlike New Labour a decade before, have not fulfilled them. The litany of broken SNP promises, born out of a manifesto that over-pledged, grows weekly.
New Labour had a huge majority in parliament while Salmond has had to run a minority government. Little wonder that one achieved more of their manifesto promises than the other.
Dead right Alastair, even in the last few days we have discovered that the SNP “forgot” to renew the agreement with the Treasury on the Scottish Governmnet’s (’til now theoretical) tax varying powers.
They promised the Earth and delivered nothing of real note apart from the Tory-inspired Council Tax freeze.
You, like all London-based Labour loyalists, appear to know very little about what really goes on in Scottish politics.
Over three and a half years in power at Holyrood the SNP have scrapped the graduate endowment for Scottish students, abolished bridge toll fares and prescription charges, frozen the council tax, resisted the privatisation of Scottish Water, put an end to PFI contracting, phased out, where possible, parking charges for hospital visiters and, despite a reduced block grant from Westminster, just increased NHS funding by £280 miliion.
Does this seem to you an insubstantial record? Consider also that it has been achieved without majority status, in the confines of strictly limited constitutional powers and in the face of relentless Labour obstructionism!
I would recommend you think twice before commenting on matters you don’t understand, but actually the more Labour people like you, Harriet Harman and your hapless new leader (remind me again where the River ‘Firth’ runs?) clumsily intrude in politics north of the border the more you expose the rotten state of your party.
Mr Salmond and his motley crew have reached new levels of incompetance….no policies….no promises kept….no chance of getting elected ever again
Salmond wanted a Scottish navy consisting of a few trawlers armed with RPGs and no army of navy three years ago. He was last seen scurrying round trying to stop the coalition closing Kinloss and Lossiemouth, and trying his best to keep the carriers being built.
How is the “arc of prosperity” doing these days?
Like Cameron, Salmond gets rattled very easily and his recent behaviour at First Minister’s Question Time is nothing short of an incoherent rant. He hates to be pinned down and resorts to disdain for opposition. Perhaps Ed Milliband should employ similar tactics – sustained and relentless attack on ConDems scary policies which nobody voted for and watch Cameron lose the plot. Worth a try!
Pensioners in Scotland got from the SNP Government:-
The Council Tax Freeze (my CT went up by £15 the previous year so I saved £15 per year. Those in mansions saved a lot more)
Free Prescriptions (which they had anyway)
We got from the Labour Party:-
Free bus travel
Winter Fuel Allowance
Free TV Licence
Greatly Increased Income Tax Allowance
and of course much improved services.
Facts to be remembered in May 2011
Excellent post Mr Maxwell. Mr Campbell, as ever, is a little detached from true reality. Spin, spin and more spin is his stock in trade.
I notice you are being scrupulously fair about the £300m Drumgelloch to Bathgate rail link due to open shortly.
Approved unanimously by the Scottish Government, providing employment and access to employment across an area devastated in Thatcher’s 80’s.
And who will be there grandstanding?
Whose real achievement?
Just saying – you are being scrupulously fair, Alastair.
I am 99.99% certain that Scotland will become independent quite soon.
Budget cuts make independence attractive as Scotland has had generous welfare state.
At the moment Scotland cannot stimulate economic growth. Because of the Barnett formula, Holyrood´s income rises and falls in direct proportion to that of the UK. And Edinburgh parliament has no borrowing powers.
Many in Scotland want full control – including income from the oil that make up 20% of UK corporation tax.
SNP will make economic power a theme of the next election. Job losses and benefit cuts in departments controlled by Westminster will make independence an attractive option.
Mayski is as clueless as Campbell.
Labour blocked the SNP’s redistributive Local Income Tax bill and promises real terms council tax increases if it gets back in power.
Prescription charges were NOT universally free under Labour – the service was means tested. This stopped 600,000 people with long-term conditions collecting free at-home treatments.
Further, everything you list – everything – was and is supported and maintained by the nationalists.
Remember that it took a Labour-Liberal coalition eight years to deliver these policies and the SNP just three to deliver the ones I list.
‘Do Less Better’ was McConnell’s mantra – words to be heeded in May 2011?
Note for Mr Maxwell:-
Please note my list referred to pensioners who have not benefitted from the SNP regime.
If I was as wise as Mr Campbell I’d be delighted.