Analysis: Alarm bells ringing as Gray snubs Alex and plays the anti-Thatcherism card
SCOTTISH Labour's manifesto launch yesterday could have got off to a better start: a fire alarm at Clydebank College 20 minutes before Iain Gray's big moment forced all those present to head out into the pouring rain, ensuring that Mr Gray himself - presumably waiting for his suit to dry off - was some 20 minutes late in getting started.
Labour are more confident, however, that what began badly yesterday will end in a happier outcome in exactly four weeks' time when Mr Gray and his colleagues have his date with Scotland's voters. To do so, Mr Gray yesterday put his faith in what amounted to a pre-Blairite appeal to Scotland's Labour heartlands, spoken directly to the party's small "c" conservative working-class base.
The big vision that guided Labour, Mr Gray declared - standing in front of a windswept river Clyde - was the socialist one of full employment. Youth unemployment will be eradicated by 2015. A total of 250,000 jobs will be created by the end of the decade. Government initiatives will create jobs and apprenticeships for school and college drop-outs. There will be "no distractions" he warned. Just the promise of a relentless focus on "the things that really matter".
All this, he said, was necessary to limit the damage of the Tory cuts. Here was the essence of Labour's campaign. Yesterday's launch gave the distinct impression that it is not Alex Salmond who Mr Gray is contesting the post of First Minister, but David Cameron.
The Tories were everywhere; Labour's pledge card, issued yesterday, begins with the words "Now that the Tories are back." Mr Gray's introductory passage to the Labour manifesto has barely begun before he is reminiscing none too chirpily about the 1980s and the dark days of Thatcherism. The calculation in the Labour camp appears to be that Scotland's ever strong anti-Tory sentiment will pull voters back to the fold.
Mr Gray's advisers are also confident that voters will continue to be turned off the SNP by its core belief in independence. Mr Salmond may have a few things to say about that next week when the SNP manifesto is launched. For Labour, not time yet to switch off the alarm bells.
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