Iain Gray, leader of the Labour MSPs prepares the troops for the election battle
I am looking forward to the coming months as we switch back into full campaign mode for what will be the ‘doorstep election’.
It seems like literally only yesterday that we were wrapped up in the general election.
That result in May was very satisfying for Labour in Scotland. The Clegg bounce was exposed as another media bubble, the Tories flatlined as almost an electoral irrelevance despite throwing cash at Scottish constituencies and Alex Salmond’s judgement once again let him down.
The First Minister claimed the SNP would win 20 seats but scraped home with only six while one million Scots put their trust in Labour. We won 41 seats.
So when I went out on my annual summer tour of Scotland I expected Labour activists to be ‘electioned’ out, but was surprised at their enthusiasm and how many had started canvassing for 2011.
The reason was quite simple. They had relished the fight of Labour values against Tory values at the general election and were now eager to rid Scotland of a failed Nationalist government. One that has been increasingly exposed as having more in common with the Conservatives than even the Scottish Lib Dems.
The Tories have propped up the creaking SNP Government since day one, supporting the budget each year and have now pushed the SNP to extending their unsustainable council tax freeze.
Now I relish the confrontation with Alex Salmond. Since I became leader we have gone head to head on three occasions. He rather ridiculously tried to pose as an Obama figure, proclaiming, “yes we can” on a roundabout during the Glenrothes by-election before we told him, “oh no you don’t”. In Glasgow North East, the Nationalists were thrashed and then there was the general election.
I have that down as 3-0 and am looking to making it four in May. Not a bad record.
Labour was also 16 points behind the Nationalists in the polls when I became leader but has had a consistent lead for over the last year.
These results did not just happen. It was down to a political strategy of holding the SNP to account at Holyrood and a lot of hard work on the doorstep as Labour reconnected with voters. The SNP complained we focused on local issues but had obviously forgotten the adage of Tip O’Neill, the great American Democrat, that ‘all politics is local’. The day a politician forgets about bread and butter issues then they will be punished.
It is not nebulous constitutional questions over a referendum that never was nor is it about an arc of prosperity that dissolves into fantasy economics. What matters in these tough times is the real world voters live in.
It is everyday life where people worry about jobs for themselves and their children, good schools and healthcare for all in communities safe from knife crime and where the weak and vulnerable are protected.
All these issues have been the hallmark of the continuous campaign we have fought at Holyrood and on the doorsteps of Scotland.
It has not been difficult persuading Labour activists to hit the streets as they know Scotland deserves better than an SNP government that has broken promises time and again, ditched failed policies, cancelled government projects and made unnecessary cuts.
Labour has held them to account for their broken promises to students over debt, first-time buyers over grants, parents, children and teachers over class sizes, school buildings and teacher numbers.
Labour forced them to abandon their flagship policies such as the local income tax and the referendum that nobody wanted.
Labour has exposed the cost of 40,000 jobs lost to the construction industry as the SNP cut off the pipeline on capital projects such as both the Edinburgh and Glasgow Airport Rail Link.
Their failed Scottish Futures Trust has effectively halted our school building programme which had built 300 new schools.
The SNP have not built one.
They also delayed the completion of our major motorway, and the Aberdeen bypass.
On top of this, there are the unnecessary cuts in the good times under three record budgets as 3000 teachers and 1000 classroom assistants have been left jobless and 4000 NHS jobs have gone. Such mismanagement is bad enough at the best of times but as Scotland now faces the coalition cuts and threat of double dip recession, it is unforgivable.
It should also not be forgotten the SNP inherited £1.5bn in reserves left by the previous Labour administration, specifically for tough times.
But the tragedy is that for three years that Parliament has been used for the benefit of the SNP not the people of Scotland. The Parliament’s will has been ignored and time and money wasted on a referendum we have never seen and a national conversation no one was ever listening to.
It is time to return our Scottish Parliament to the purpose Donald Dewar ascribed to it on the opening day, “the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal”.
Much was achieved in the early days such as land reform, incapacity act, free personal care and the smoking ban.
These were bold policies making a big difference. Now we have a First Minister who talks big but has achieved little or nothing except for sinking Scotland into the Salmond Slump.
Meanwhile unemployment is soaring in Scotland as it drops in the rest of Britain.
Economic growth is lagging and child poverty rates are rising again – twice as fast as in the rest of Britain.
Yet Alex Salmond inherited a Scotland where unemployment was lower than the rest of the country, employment was higher and youth unemployment had all but disappeared. Poverty was falling faster than any other part of Britain.
The SNP have thrown all that away.
The price is being paid today by 50,000 extra workers on the dole since last year and by 260,000 children living in poverty.
Meanwhile newly trained teachers, nurses and midwives are leaving home and family to find work abroad.
And now the Tory cuts are coming. This is why Professor Blanchflower warned recently that they will hit Scotland hardest, because we are weakened by three years of SNP misgovernment.
This is Alex Salmond’s legacy of failure in Scotland.
When unemployment rises, poverty spreads and opportunity disappears, people will look to Labour.
So Labour will campaign for clean hospitals, literacy in our schools, apprenticeship opportunities for our young people and a Living Wage for all in the public sector. We will set up a Living Wage unit to campaign to roll it out across the private sector.
Labour will stand shoulder to shoulder with carers, with knife-crime campaigners, with C diff families, with community groups facing funding cuts, with newly qualified teachers on the scrapheap and nurses in the firing line.
We had our bad election in 2007 and we learned the lessons.
People say to me, why would you want to be First Minister when money is so tight, when the decisions will be so hard. I say it is when times are hardest that Labour values are needed most of all.