Scott Macnab: Labour already claiming victories

The cancellation of the women's 'super prison' this week is being hailed by Labour as the first major coup of Jim Murphy's leadership. Picture: John Devlin
The cancellation of the women's 'super prison' this week is being hailed by Labour as the first major coup of Jim Murphy's leadership. Picture: John Devlin
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LABOUR has been on the attack but it is now fighting on a broader front, writes Scott Macnab

The cancellation of the women’s “super prison” this week is being hailed by Labour as the first major coup of Jim Murphy’s leadership.

It certainly shows that the former Westminster heavyweight has the ability to move fast and focus on the issues in a way that has been lacking in Scotland’s main opposition party in recent years.

Labour quickly seized on this one after former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill – the man who presided over the initial prison service plans – used his removal from the cabinet office to demand the new jail be axed.

This approach was all wrong to deal with Scotland’s women offenders, MacAskill suddenly proclaimed, leaving successor Michael Matheson to deal with the fallout.

It was an open goal for the opposition and was quickly followed by the sudden announcement of a “moratorium” on fracking after Labour pressure. Murphy has also been busy demanding a “resilience fund” for Scotland to smooth future economic shocks. Any similarity to the SNP’s plans for an oil fund is purely coincidental, Labour says.

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Labour has also been busy attempting to seize the initiative with a pledge to provide 1,000 more nurses than the SNP would provide.

Rival party spin doctors at Holyrood have even taken to asking of Labour “what’s the policy today?”

But perhaps that populist drive is what Labour has been missing recently and the prison episode, along with the fracking ban, shows how opposition pressure can yield results. If nothing else it does give the impression of a government on the back foot.

But the prison saga also saw another dynamic emerging as the Women For Independence group also emerged to rightfully highlight the role they played in pushing the government into a change in position.

From one perspective, it almost gave the impression of a campaigning wing of the SNP – led by an SNP candidate – acting as an opposition “spoiler”, allowing the nationalist movement to take credit for its own U-turns. If nothing else, it shows how independence has become a broad movement, not just about the SNP. And this could be a phenomenon which Labour strategists must come terms with as the election campaign intensifies.

They are no longer just fighting the SNP but a broader grassroots movement for independence which sprung up in the final weeks of the referendum campaign.