Gray rips up manifesto – with a little outside help
BUSINESS leaders, teachers and voluntary workers from outside the Labour Party are going to be brought in to help the party find the radical edge it needs to beat the SNP in 2011, The Scotsman has learned.
Iain Gray, Labour's new leader in Scotland, is determined to change completely the way the party makes policy.
He is going to throw out the whole 2007 election manifesto and bring in a whole set of popular new ideas drawn up by people from outside the party.
Margaret Curran, the former communities minister, has been given the role of setting up "virtual think tanks" of experts from outside politics. There will be one from business, one from the voluntary sector and one from education. The ideas that these groups come up with will be then be fed in to the Scottish Labour Party policy-making process and have a good chance of getting into the party's 2011 election manifesto.
Mr Gray is adamant that he will accept good ideas from any sources, inside and outside the party, even if they clash with policies agreed by the UK Labour Party for England.
A spokesman for Mr Gray said last night: "Iain is determined that the 2011 Scottish election manifesto will be made in Scotland, written in Scotland and for Scotland."
Mr Gray was elected as the new leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament on Saturday, beating Cathy Jamieson, the former justice minister, and Andy Kerr, the former health minister, by a comfortable margin.
He made it clear as soon as he was elected that he believed his remit was wider than just that of the leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament, because he had been elected by the entire Scottish Labour Party, including local constituency associations and the trade unions.
He said this gave him a mandate to speak for the Scottish Labour Party – a statement which showed he was willing to assert his new-found authority over the rival claims of Des Browne, the Scottish Secretary.
Mr Browne said later he was sure that Mr Gray would respect the existing "structure of the party", which was interpreted by some as the start of a turf war between the men. Mr Gray, however, played down claims of infighting between himself and Mr Browne, insisting yesterday that they were working well together.
The new leader said: "I spent most of yesterday with Des Browne. You would think Des and I would know if we were actually involved in some kind of turf war as described and it's absolutely not the case."
Mr Gray said he had asked Ms Curran to look after policy development ahead of the 2011 election because, having had all the feedback from the voters during her unsuccessful by-election campaign in Glasgow East, she knew what the voters wanted from Labour.
He said: "It's time to close the 2007 manifesto and begin writing the 2011 one and Margaret Curran will take the lessons she learned and heard on those doorsteps in Glasgow East to the heart of that process."
But how will new Labour leader fare against First Minister?
SNP spin doctors have already started calling Iain Gray "Mr three per cent" because that, apparently, is the percentage of Scots who think he would be a good First Minister.
• CHARISMA: 4/10
Mr Gray had a reputation as being boring. He is more feisty, intelligent and possesses more leadership skills than many of his opponents give him credit for.
• DEBATING SKILLS: 5/10
Mr Gray was always seen as competent but not necessarily fiery or oratorical. He has improved recently and there is no reason why he can't start to compete with Mr Salmond.
• POLICIES: 5/10
Mr Gray is starting from scratch. He cannot be held responsible for past mistakes but he also cannot come at the SNP with coherent, well-worked policies.
• TEAMWORK: 8/10
Labour has many experienced former ministers and Mr Gray should use them all in his team, regardless of previous affiliations.
Alex Salmond has been at the top of SNP politics, on and off, for nearly 20 years and no-one in the Scottish Parliament comes close to him in terms of public profile.
• CHARISMA: 7/10
Mr Salmond is popular and generally seen as charismatic. He likes to give the impression of being one of the lads – this seems to work.
• DEBATING SKILLS: 8/10
The First Minister is probably the best parliamentary debater at Holyrood. He is quick-witted, sharp and combative. He can sometimes ignore important details in favour of making grand gestures.
• POLICIES: 5/10
Mr Salmond has done well with populist policies but things are going to get much harder when he introduces key financial policies.
• TEAMWORK: 3/10
Mr Salmond is almost a one-man band for the SNP. This means, though, that no-one else has really been given the chance to shine.
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