Eddie Barnes: Austerity is having an impact on the campaign tack chosen by the Scottish parties – with mixed results
IT'S been said there are only three types of election campaign: "Time for a Change"; "We're on the right track, don't turn back" and "Better the devil you know". Time for a Change, say the experts, is the best.
Remember the SNP in 2007 ("It's Time")?; or Obama in 2008 ("Change we can believe in")? "We're on the right track" comes next – promises of continuity didn't do too badly for Tony Blair in 2001 and 2005. But if continuity isn't what people want, then you've got no choice but to go for Campaign No 3. John Major was one such underdog who used it to scrape home in 1992.
Last week, Scotland's parties unveiled the first glimpses of their own campaigns. So where do Labour and the SNP stand ahead of Holyrood 2011?
The SNP is – revealingly – still carrying Alex Salmond's avuncular 2007 campaign picture on its website as it seeks to recreate that campaign's success. But while the photo remains the same, clearly Campaign No 1, and a re-run of four years ago, is out.
The risk with Campaign No 2 – we're on the right track, don't mess it up now – is if people don't accept you're on the right track in the first place.
So, on the back of what most observers would regard as a mixed record in power, the SNP appears to have opted for a mixture of Campaigns 2 and 3. Three messages are now blaring out from the same SNP website: one thanks people for their support; one asks them to "protect our progress"; the third urges them to "stop sky-high council tax rises". The message is clear: to those of you still sympathetic to us, please stick by us. To those of you whose sympathy is on the wane, well, at least we're not going to bump up your council tax.
Over at Labour, the focus has so far been almost exclusively on Nat-bashing; last week's campaign launch amounted to a list of 100 broken promises performed by the SNP government. This has led to concerns among some in the Labour camp that they are already too late in getting their election messages out there. One source says: "There is a feeling that if we say too much then we give away our ideas and then the opposition can steal our thunder. My feeling is if it's a good idea then you make it yours. The issue is about timing."
But when Labour's strategy does emerge, it appears that Mr Gray has decided on a variant of Campaign No 1. Acknowledging the tough times and the depleted public purse, Mr Gray will stress he will promise only what is achievable in the circumstances. This is designed to distinguish himself from the SNP at Holyrood and the Con-Lib pact at Westminster, all of whom, he will note, have failed to back up their many promises.
One senior aide says: "Previous Holyrood elections were all about what package of things you could make free for people. You can't say that now."
So it's Time for a Change, austerity style, versus the devil you can trust. Plus a change.
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