Leaders: Ed Miliband wise not to bow to pressure

Miliband came under pressure from his fellow MPs. Picture: Michael Gillen
Miliband came under pressure from his fellow MPs. Picture: Michael Gillen
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THERE was a good reason why Ed Miliband, when he spoke at yesterday’s Scottish Labour conference in Edinburgh, did not rule out a post-election deal with the SNP.

Privately and publicly, many Scottish Labour MPs have been begging the Labour leader to make clear he would not do a deal with the Nationalists if there was a hung parliament after the general election on 7 May. These MPs are motivated by the immediate danger they see in their canvass returns.

An increasing number of voters see the best possible outcome as a Labour-SNP agreement that puts Miliband into Downing Street and installs 40-plus SNP members on the green benches to fight Scotland’s corner in the mother of parliaments. These voters see this as a win-win. Many Labour MPs believe that if Miliband rules out a deal, then these voters will immediately switch their vote back to the Labour party.

The MPs’ concern is legitimate, but their hope is breathtakingly naïve. The truth is that it would be a serious strategic error for Miliband to talk publicly at this stage about a deal with the SNP. Rest assured that somewhere in SNP HQ is a press release ready to be sent out in that very eventuality, and it does not take much political insight to imagine what it says: “Miliband: I’d rather keep Cameron in Downing Street than do a deal with the SNP. Labour leader rejects progressive anti-Tory alliance. Scots will not forgive Labour for this betrayal, says First Minister.” Ruling out a Labour-Nationalist agreement would look to the average SNP-inclined voter like Miliband was cutting off his nose to spite his face. It would simply compound Labour’s image problem in the eyes of Labour-SNP swing voters, and deepen the party’s problems.

Instead, Labour is desperate to ensure the SNP is as invisible and irrelevant as possible, and for the general election to be a straight choice between Labour and the Tories for control of Number 10. This was why yesterday’s speeches by Miliband and Murphy barely mentioned the Nationalists. Labour is trying to press the reset button on Scottish politics and return to the days of previous campaigns, when the SNP was reduced to its core vote, while voters concentrated on who would occupy Downing Street. Labour’s problem is that the reset button is not working, and shows no sign of working.

It is hard to fault Murphy on his strategy as Scottish Labour leader since his election – he has wrong-footed Nicola Sturgeon on a number of occasions, and yesterday’s announcement of extra financial help for young Scots who do not go to university is an imaginative policy that cuts across the SNP’s cartoonish characterisation of Labour as “red Tories”. But Murphy’s problem is that the voters are disinclined to give Labour the benefit of the doubt. After alienating even its own supporters during the referendum campaign and its aftermath, when arrogance and hubris seemed to be Labour’s defining characteristics, Murphy’s party has not yet won back the right to be heard. At this stage it is very hard to tell if this reluctance to engage with Labour will last two months, a year or a decade. Scottish Labour strategists are counting on the hope that blanket coverage of the general election will concentrate minds on whether Cameron or Miliband will be prime minister, with growing emphasis on which of the two main UK parties wins the biggest number of seats.

All talk of deals is academic until the election is over and the Commons arithmetic is known. Labour, as biggest party but short of a majority, may prefer to parley with the Lib Dems. Or Miliband could simply demand SNP support without negotiations, knowing that this puts Sturgeon in a tricky situation. Could she really refuse to put Labour into office, and instead let the Tories back in? Miliband may well be calculating that a formal deal with the SNP may not be necessary to win power with SNP support.

Don’t mess with the CalMac experience

SOMETIMES it is the simple pleasures that you relish most. For generations of Scots, one of the joys of a holiday on the west coast has been the moment you stand on the quayside and watch the arrival of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry in its distinctive red and black livery. The pleasure has much to do with the fact that you know exactly what awaits you when you finally get the chance to board. Of course, you know that the ferry is taking you to one of Scotland’s wonderful island destinations, which is a pleasure of anticipation. But that can be safely banked while you enjoy the wonderfully mundane joys of CalMac hospitality.

Prominent among these is the CalMac cooked breakfast. Woe betide the holiday planner who chooses the wrong ferry time and finds that breakfast is no longer being served. Many a parent has made that mistake. Maybe it is the ingredients, maybe it is the briskly cheerful staff, or maybe it is the exotic tang of diesel and seaspray, but rarely has egg, bacon, sausage, beans and tattie scone ever tasted as good as when sampled en route from Oban to Craignure.

The other on-board pleasures are very much down to one’s personal taste. For some, the bar is a must. The collection of creatures gathered there can often be reminiscent of the bar scene in the fourth Star Wars film, with its collection of the odd and the downright scary. For others, the lounge is the place for some seriously good people-watching, from tourists in £250 cagoules to the oilskinned drivers of fish lorries. But it is hard to beat the silent company of the hardy souls on the outside deck, regardless of the weather, lost in their own thoughts, be they sadness or reverie.

What this experience does not need is a marketing intern with a fixed grin insisting you try a lump of Mull cheddar on a cocktail stick. Or a pop-up shop selling itchy-looking knitwear in unwearable psychedelic colours. Or a CalMac public relations representative suggesting you avert your gaze from the view and instead download a CalMac island app. Which is why CalMac’s latest innovations to “improve” the on-board experience of travellers may not necessarily find favour with some of the company’s most devoted customers. We like the CalMac experience just the way it is, thank you very much.

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