WHEN Ed Balls came to Scotland on the general election trail yesterday, there was no surprise that well and truly in his sights was the SNP plan for full fiscal autonomy.
Latest polls suggest the Nationalists could deprive Scottish Labour of dozens of MPs come 7 May, an outcome Mr Balls and his colleagues fear could keep Ed Miliband out of 10 Downing Street.
Labour needs to gain some purchase on formerly loyal supporters who have decided to throw in their lot with the SNP, and Labour’s strategists believe the proposal for financial home rule is one of the weakest aspects of Nicola Sturgeon’s general election policy programme.
The SNP defines home rule as “everything except defence and foreign affairs”, so the economic arguments for home rule are near-identical to the economic arguments for independence.
This allows Labour to reprise the anti-independence financial case that they believe was one of the strongest aspects of the No campaign last year – a campaign that resulted in the defeat of the independence cause.
Reprise these arguments, the Labour theory goes, and you will get the same result – a rejection of full fiscal autonomy, whether outwith or within the UK.
There is, of course a flaw in this Labour strategy. Many of the traditional Labour voters it is targeting with this message had already accepted the SNP arguments on financial autonomy when they voted Yes in last September’s independence referendum.
They listened to these arguments then, and voted Yes anyway.
What makes Labour think that it can change their minds now?
The answer is that circumstances have changed. An independence plan based last year on oil at $113 a barrel would now have to be financed by oil at $55 a barrel.
This would make independence a very difficult proposition in the current climate. And it would make home rule – under the SNP definition – difficult too.
This allows Mr Balls to venture north and accuse the SNP of wanting to preside over the kind of austerity north of the Border that would make George Osborne blush.
The puzzling thing is why the SNP have chosen to fight this UK general election on a position that leaves them so open to such an obvious and potentially potent attack, given the circumstances Scotland now finds itself in with the fall in oil price.
Ms Sturgeon could have fought this election targeting a number of specific powers – on taxation and welfare – she wants devolved to Scotland, to strengthen the Smith Agreement deal.
These could have attracted wide majority support across Scotland – wider even than the SNP’s current impressive standing – and served as an electoral strength rather than a weakness.
If the polls begin to narrow before 7 May, the SNP will only have itself to blame.
Gregor is a national treasure
GREGOR Fisher has given Scottish popular culture some of its best-loved characters.
In the Naked Video TV sketch show he created the Baldy Man, whose combover haircut could never quite stay in place as he tried to take a picture in a photobooth. In the same show he also played the over-enthusiastic, Highland-accented TV presenter for the OHBC (Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation). And, of course, with the help of writer Ian Pattison, he gave the world Rab C Nesbitt, an instantly recognisable figure in a string vest, pinstripe suit and grubby white sandshoes, often accessorised with a blood-strained head bandage.
At first glance, Rab was the worst kind of Glaswegian stereotype – a lazy, no-good, work-shy drunk; a bad husband and an atrocious father. But great writing allowed this superb actor to imbue him with an unexpected pathos. There is a bit of Rab C Nesbitt in more of us than we would care to admit.
Now Mr Fisher is about to gift us another Scottish archetype – this time in drag – in his first foray into the theatre in a quarter of a century.
In Yer Granny, an adaptation of a classic Italian drama, La Nona, Mr Fisher will play a 100-year-old Scottish-Italian grandmother described by the producers as a diabolical matriarch.
It is not his first time in drag – he previously portrayed Ma Broon from The Broons comic strip in Naked Video.
One of Mr Fisher’s great talents is the physicality he brings to a role, and a larger-than-life range of emotions, from rage to despair.
We look forward to seeing these deployed in what critics are anticipating could be one of the big stage hits of the year.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS