FAR from the political temperature cooling, it’s fast hotting up south of the Border.
This week Labour leader Ed Miliband made a direct appeal to the party’s heartland voters. By failing to mention the budget deficit and immigration in his speech at Manchester he may have done little to win over middle-of-the-road floating voters. But he has left no doubt of his 2015 election strategy to stiffen and mobilise traditional core Labour support.
The Conservatives will waste no opportunity at their party conference in Birmingham to point to Labour’s evident weakness on borrowing, deficit and debt. But yesterday it was the turn of the UK Independence Party at its conference in Doncaster, where Ed Miliband is MP, to make its pitch for Labour votes. “We are”, its leader Nigel Farage declared, “now parking our tanks on the Labour Party’s lawn.”
Mr Farage insists Ukip is “tearing vast chunks” out of the Labour vote in the north of England and Wales, and protests that the constant portrayal that Ukip posed more of a threat to the Conservatives than to Labour was quite wrong.
But for all his protestations, the assertion that Ukip threatens Labour as much as the Conservatives does not ring true. It is highly unlikely to inflict anything like the damage on Labour that the SNP has clearly done in Scotland. While there is widespread disenchantment with the “political class” as represented by the mainstream parties and continuing concern over immigration, Ukip does not begin to pose a threat to Labour on this scale.
What is certainly true is that large numbers of Ukip supporters have defected from the Conservatives, not Labour. It is Eurosceptic Tory MPs, not Labour ones, who have been the subject of constant rumours about defection.
In advocating tax cuts, Mr Farage clearly appeals more to Conservative heartland voters than Labour ones. And Ukip poses a major threat to the Conservatives in the traditional Tory seat of Clacton. Here, former Conservative MP Douglas Carswell stands a fair chance of winning the seat for Ukip in the by-election next month.
Where Ukip may pose a greater threat to the three main parties is on the contentious issue of “English Votes for English Laws” arising from pledges given to deliver more powers for the Scottish Parliament. If this pledge does not also deliver some constitutional rearrangement at Westminster, Ukip may be able to capitalise on English fears of unfairness and disadvantage. Labour, anxious over the loss of Scots Labour MPs voting on English matters, has proposed a Constitutional Convention. But this may take many months, if not longer, to deliberate. Should this delay the fulfilment of the promise to Scots of more powers, there would be an angry eruption north of the Border. And simultaneously this could also be fertile ground for a protest vote down south of the type Mr Farage represents.
Teed up for sporting excellence
Sunshine, a great atmosphere, a sporting spectacle – and first blood to Europe: for golfers the Ryder Cup is as near to paradise as it is possible to imagine. But for Scotland and the world it provides a watchable and most engrossing sporting event – and at the very least something else for Scots to talk about rather than the referendum.
Scotland is the home of golf, so it is understandable that this year’s Ryder Cup has attracted the keenest interest. And where better to hold this supreme golf match than on the magnificent course at Gleneagles? Locals may sigh at the congested roads, the heavy volume of traffic, the diversions and delays. But this caps what by any standards is an extraordinary year for Scotland.
Indeed it is hard to recall any period in living memory when Scotland has been the centre of such global attention.
The Ryder Cup is a wonderful opportunity to show sporting excellence at its best and, following on the heels of the highly successful Commonwealth Games this summer in Glasgow, it is another occasion that helps put Scotland firmly on the world map as a visitor destination. And the event itself is fully living up to the expectations of golfing aficionados.
Europe drew first blood in their defence of the cup but it was the United States who had the psychological advantage in the morning fourballs.
Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer opened in top form for Europe while relative unknowns from the US, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed belied their inexperience by demolishing Europe’s Ian Poulter and debutant Steven Gallacher.
A wonderful opening day – and all to play for.