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Iain Gray: Does anyone know who this man is?

HE IS the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and the man who hopes to become Scotland's next First Minister.

But according to a survey by The Scotsman, Iain Gray is struggling to make an impression on voters. A poll of almost 500 people in four cities found fewer than 20 per cent of them recognised the Labour leader when shown a photograph of him.

One thought he was a character from the TV drama Midsomer Murders. Another thought he was Jim Devine, the former MP found guilty of fiddling his expenses. By contrast the vast majority of those asked were able to recognise First Minister Alex Salmond from a photograph.

The news comes just days after an opinion poll showed the SNP had surged ahead of Labour among people certain to vote in the 5 May election, just weeks after being about ten points behind Iain Gray's party.

The poll also found just 33 per cent were satisfied with Mr Gray's performance as party leader, compared to 51 per cent who thought First Minister Alex Salmond was doing a good job.

Yesterday The Scotsman took to the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness to test the two leaders' profiles.

After reporters showed voters photos of Mr Gray and Mr Salmond and asked who the men pictured were, only eight out of 125 people interviewed in Glasgow identified the Labour leader, compared to 89 for the SNP leader. Eight named neither.

Some voters in the city even thought the Labour leader was UK Tory Chancellor George Osborne, with another thinking he was the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

One Glasgow pensioner took Mr Gray for George Osborne, while city resident Gerry Docherty, 35, said: "Yeah, Gordon Brown, isn't it? I'm sure it is."

Only 27 out of 126 people polled in Aberdeen were able to say who Mr Gray was, while 89 could place Mr Salmond. There were 28 voters in the Granite City unable to identify either of the political leaders.

One Aberdonian said: "That's Alex Salmond. I knew him when I used to live in Banffshire. The other guy looks like somebody from Midsomer Murders."

The results from Edinburgh also make for gloomy reading for Mr Gray, with only 39 out of 122 capital residents interviewed able to name him, compared to 107 for Mr Salmond and 15 who recognised neither.

Mr Gray fared even worse in Inverness, where just 15 out of 125 people could name the Labour leader.

A total of 114 knew Alex Salmond by name, while 11 people knew neither politician.

Kevin Barclay, an Inverness resident, said: "I watch the political shows on the telly and know a bit about it." On being shown Iain Gray's picture: "He's the guy who was done for fiddling his expenses (Jim Devine] isn't he?"

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A leading expert in Labour politics and elections, Professor Trevor Salmon, said that the results may tip the balance in favour of the SNP in May's poll and could "make all the difference" if the election result is close.

Prof Salmon, of Aberdeen University, said that the findings could "only help the SNP when voters go to the polls in May".

He said: "Name recognition can make all the difference. There's the issue for Iain Gray of if someone doesn't know you how do they vote for you? These sorts of issues could make the difference between whether Labour is the biggest party or whether it wins a majority.

"As for the question of the SNP winning another term, the name recognition of Alex Salmond compared to Iain Gray could make a marginal difference if it comes down to one or two seats determining the outcome."

The revelations about Mr Gray's recognition among voters comes after a survey by Ipsos Mori showed that among those certain to vote, the SNP were on 37 per cent to Labour's 36 per cent.

Ipsos Mori calculated that, if the poll findings were translated into seats, the SNP would continue to be the biggest party at Holyrood, with 51 seats to Labour's 48.

Such a result would enable Mr Salmond to press ahead with his preferred plan for another minority government, supported at arm's length by either the Conservatives or the Lib Dems.

Compared with a poll carried out by the same company in November last year, the SNP have gained six points, while Labour have lost five. On the list vote, the SNP was ahead by 35 per cent to 33 per cent.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said that Labour leader Mr Gray would probably prefer to be Midsomer Murders actor John Nettles, who one voter had mistaken him for.

Mr Gibson said: "After the last week I'm sure Iain Gray would rather be John Nettles."

Labour's campaign coordinator John Park admitted that the results represented a "challenge" for Mr Gray, but the MSP said: "Let's see where we are in May."

MARGINALISED

Iain Gray has struggled to raise his profile since he became leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

He was eclipsed as top Labour politician north of the Border during Jim Murphy's tenure as Secretary of State for Scotland. The two took up their roles in autumn 2008.

East Renfrewshire Labour MP Mr Murphy was widely seen as the party's top dog in Scotland who took the fight to Alex Salmond's SNP in spats over funding between the UK and Scottish governments.

Since his election as Labour leader Mr Gray has spoken at Labour's annual UK conference, but he is often relegated to an early morning slot, when large numbers of delegates are absent.

This year he launched Scottish Labour's election campaign on a Kilmarnock street on a Monday afternoon. Alex Salmond kicked-off the SNP's campaign in central Edinburgh a day later.

 
 
 

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