Labour stand on the precipice of losing control of Scotland. Once their heartland, an ICM poll released last week suggested that the Labour party could lose as many as 29 of their 41 Scottish MPs. The projections pit the SNP as Scotland’s main party set to hold 43 out of 59 Westminster.
With the Labour Party appeal in the South East showing little to no sign of recovery, Scotland remains vital to any red resurgence. Jim Murphy appears to have had no impact on quelling the post-referendum rise of the SNP and further baiting by both David Cameron and Alex Salmond (usual bedfellows) piles further misery on top of Labour.
A change of tactics is desperately needed from Ed Miliband. His current position of constant denial that any deal with Salmond is ‘unholy’ serves only to remind the public of just how weak his position currently is. North of the border the SNP are painting Labour as a party of compromisers with little intellectual energy or political imagination, sleepwalking into a General Election that they could never win. South of it, Cameron is using a different brush to paint strokes of unpreparedness; to him Labour are a party at the mercy of potential coalition deals, crippled by the need to appease minor parties in their currently fictional minority government.
The real root of Labour’s affliction has been quite literally illustrated by the nation’s most popular satirical cartoonists. Artists such as the Times’s Peter Brookes has painted Ed Miliband as the man holding two axes; one rusty and bloody and belonging to the Tories and his rather friendlier looking axe painted with sunshine and swallows. The message is clear from both print media and Scottish voters: an axe is an axe, the pattern is immaterial when it is coming for your head.
It is their inability to distinguish themselves from the Conservative Party’s ruthless austerity measures that does the most damage to the Labour leadership on both sides of the border. Ed Balls’s embarrassing televised performances post-budget, attempting to find any differences that he has with Osborne's policies can’t have done much to persuade voters that his party offers any real alternatives. When faced with the final budget before a General Election, especially when the polls are so close, Labour should have had one clear difference (which on paper would appear to be NHS funding) tirelessly rehearsed. All that was needed was to repeat that rehearsed line over and over again all day and night until voters couldn’t think of Ed Balls without imagining some hospital-based utopian scene. Instead the message seemed to be: ‘we’re slightly gentler than the Tories… probably’.
Too much time and energy has gone into devising an immigration strategy to combat UKIP that every other policy announcement or opposition statement has the appearance of being drafted on the inside of a fag packet on the taxi journey to Westminster. The SNP are making stoic progress because they provide Scottish voters with one genuine alternative voice in parliament. Salmond almost smugly boasted in interviews that he would force the Labour party into borrowing and investment in public services. The idea of a Labour MP even mentioning borrowing as an option seems to bring out the very worst and incurable of rashes and as for the Conservative party you have a better chance of them advocating the European single currency. The SNP cut through all the talk of deficit and percentage of national debt against GDP that voters can’t see and tapped deep into their lives; their children’s education, their ability to buy a house and their care if they end up at the mercy of the health service.
Ed Miliband should take a quick glance at the Deputy Prime Minister on the benches opposite. There sits a man who five years ago became, overnight, a demagogue in British politics. One decent debate performance and voters went flocking to a man who provided an alternative voice to the two-way snugglefest that had been Labour/Tory policy making for the last 15 years. Five years on he is now a punchline in British politics with a name synonymous with compromise and empty campaign pledges. The Tories did such a good job of crowding out Lib Dem policies and cabinet ministers that it is difficult sometimes to remember they are even there. Until of course one of them turns up on the steps with a yellow dispatch box in a desperate attempt to grab attention. The Lib Dems were an alternative voice that, as the public see it, chucked it all in for a shot at the big time. They are no longer an alternative, they are part of the system and as such their vote is drifting away.
To succeed in either the North or the South Labour will have to put their Ed’s together to come up with something much better than a slightly prettier axe. The SNP provide a blueprint for something different for voters to get behind, the majority of Brits are tired of being kicked around by austerity and yearn for something different. Those that don’t mind the pinch and want to see a party that has the convictions to drive this ship home have the Conservatives to go to, leaving Ed Miliband alone with one very pretty axe.