Analysis: Alex Salmond can expect mud to be thrown – but will it stick?

AS IT gets longer by the month, the politics of the dole queue looks set to become a monthly blot for governments in both Edinburgh and London.

With the stuttering UK economy failing to produce the jobs to match a growing labour force, both administrations have to expect further bad news.

For Alex Salmond, who has spent much of the past few months churning out press releases noting how much better Scotland is performing than the UK as a whole, yesterday’s unemployment figures were not what he wanted. Having argued that it was his government that had led to lower-than-average unemployment, it was only to be expected that his opponents would leap on the latest bad unemployment news to declare his plan a failure.

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The SNP administration turned to other findings within the figures – such as the relatively good performance of Scotland’s private sector, compared with England’s – in the hope of showing that Scotland remained in better fettle. But there was little masking the sudden 25,000 increase.

There is no doubt, however, that the SNP government can expect to have further mud thrown in its direction, given its claims over the past few months and the gloomy predictions for the labour market. The question is whether any of the mud sticks. For Mr Salmond’s opponents, one of the most infuriating aspects of his leadership is his ability to shift from statesman to oppositionist. In the good times, it is his doing; in the bad, it’s the lack of powers to blame. But while his opponents may cry foul, the First Minister is only playing the cards he is given – and reflecting plenty of truth.

Voters know that, in the face of a global economic storm, a mass nervous breakdown on the high street and a slowdown in the increase in public spending, bigger powers are at work on the jobs market, which put the frantic efforts of governments – at whatever level – into scale. Combine this with polls that show people in Scotland overwhelmingly blame the UK government for the recent fall in their living standards rather than the Scottish administration, and the political damage to Mr Salmond may be mitigated.

Mr Salmond and his ministers will now press ahead with fresh ideas, including yesterday’s call for another jobs summit, and the appointment of a specific youth employment minister. But with the public sector now shedding jobs, not creating them, few people inside or outside government can be under any illusion that, with the jobs market looking so fragile, all they can do is mitigate the damage there too.