BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian
« Previous | Main | Next »

Blurring the distinction?

Brian Taylor | 12:01 UK time, Saturday, 27 March 2010

Scottish Labour conference. Glasgow. Single day. Launch of the party's Scottish pledge card for the coming UK General Election.

It is an intriguing document, straddling reserved and devolved issues.

Labour resolves that, it says, by promising action now on the reserved matters such as the broad economy, action from Opposition at Holyrood where possible on the devolved issues and, finally, inclusion of those devolved promises in the party's manifesto for the 2011 Scottish elections.

You may recall that Labour's Scottish manifesto launch for the UK General Election five years ago was somewhat troubled as a consequence of blending together devolved and reserved issues, largely without clarity.

This is not pure pedantry. This is not an academic point. It is about choice and direction.

When people in Scotland choose an MP, they are selecting an individual to make choices in Westminster on their behalf on reserved issues. Not devolved ones.

Now, of course, the good and sensible people of Scotland want to hear what putative MPs think about devolved matters too.

A candidate who says of health or education that they are "nothing to do with me, mate" is unlikely to thrive or even survive.

Talking up investment

So Labour's launch today tries to address that. Yes, the pledge card still features reserved issues - which MPs control - and devolved ones, which they don't.

But the accompanying message from Labour is that they will tackle these issues in the appropriate manner.

On the economy, they say they will seek to halve Britain's huge deficit through growth, "fair taxes" and "cuts to lower priority spending."

In the coming election, they will be challenged on precisely what they mean by "fairness" in taxation - and what, precisely, those "lower priority" programmes might be.

To date, in common with their rivals, they have been rather more eager to talk up the "frontline investment" which they hope to protect.

Overall direction

But the pledge card also features devolved issues such as health and crime. Challenged on whether that is misleading the voters, Labour says no.

The pledges include halving the waiting time for cancer patients and mandatory jail sentences for carrying a knife.

Labour says it will seek to implement these objectives in Holyrood now, from Opposition. If thwarted, these pledges will feature in the 2011 Holyrood manifesto.

It might be said that this is blurring the distinction between the two parliaments.

Labour's argument is that they are setting out the overall direction they intend to pursue in Scotland - and inviting voters to endorse that.

As to strategy, the talk here is of a twin approach. Invite voters to "take a long, hard look at the Tories".

"Brutal" squeeze

In effect, Labour will run this election in an oppositional approach, positing David Cameron as the virtual incumbent, the one to be brought down.

This is, of course, designed to counter the Tories' main message which is: "Ask yourself, do you really want another five years of Gordon Brown?"

Labour wants voters to make a choice between two parties - not to consider that they are participating in a referendum on Mr Brown.

Track two of the strategy is to attempt to narrow the choice in the voters' minds, to cut out the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

A "brutal" squeeze, as one MP described it to me.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.