Leader comment: Third place would be new Scottish Labour low

Manifesto will not win back voters convinced that SNP has taken on the mantle of the party of social values in Scotland

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has her work cut out for her. Picture: PA
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has her work cut out for her. Picture: PA
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has her work cut out for her. Picture: PA

Scotland will go to the polls a week today for the fifth Scottish Parliament elections since devolution. It is poised to be the most one-sided yet, with Nicola Sturgeon sweeping to the easiest of victories to claim an unprecedented third term in office for the SNP, according to every poll. For her party to be so popular among voters after nine years in office marks the extent to which the SNP has established itself as the natural party of government in Scotland. It is also testament to the dramatic decline of Labour which held this mantle for generations in post-war Scotland.

The near wipeout which the party of Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and Gordon Brown suffered in last May’s Westminster election seemed as bad as things could get. But if Labour does finish behind the Tories next week, as polls suggest, it will mark a true nadir. Leader Kezia Dugdale launched a last-ditch appeal to win back lost support with the launch of its manifesto yesterday, but its hard to see it rescuing a young leader who has been swimming against the tide since replacing Jim Murphy last Summer.

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Labour has re-branded itself as the anti-austerity party in Scotland. This was a mantle successfully adopted by Nicola Sturgeon last year in the Westminster vote. As the SNP Government in Scotland proposes swingeing cuts of up £350 million in local services across the country, Labour pounced with surprise proposals to use Holyrood’s new powers to raise income tax to fight austerity. It certainly saw a shift in the political dynamic and the SNP found itself on the back foot for failing to use the new powers to combat Tory austerity. Unfortunately for Labour, it has simply failed to shift the polls where the mammoth surge to the SNP since the referendum has shown little sign of abating. Labour even found itself branded with the “toxic” label, for so long the preserve of the Tories in Scotland, by one pollster. Perhaps the anti-austerity drive just came a bit too late in the day. Or perhaps voters simply don’t want tax rises. Surveys may suggest Scots back individual policies like tax rises to fight austerity. There’s a difference between this and effectively “cashing the cheque” when it comes to casting that “X” on the ballot paper on polling day.

Pledges to protect health, education and police budgets are all welcome, but it’s hard to see how the manifesto unveiled yesterday will win back voters from the SNP which many Scots now see as the party of social values in Scotland. Labour’s problems have been years in the making and are as much down to its time in Government at UK level and disastrous foreign policy decisions. But the party has been riven by instability at Holyrood with six leaders in the past nine years. It was this period which saw the SNP emerge as the dominant force in Scottish politics under Alex Salmond. Despite plummeting personal ratings and mixed election campaign so far, Ms Dugdale has pledged to stay on after the election, no matter the result. How long it will take her to convince the people of Scotland that Labour can again be a government in waiting is another matter.

Vaping must be allowed to work

Opinion on electronic cigarettes has appeared increasingly divided the more popular they have become. An estimated 2.6 million people are now using them in Britain, where the value of the “vaping” market has reached £800 million, up from around £50m in 2011.

Yet there has been no clear consensus among health experts over the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes or how helpful they are to anyone looking to give up smoking.

It is less than a year since Public Health England opened the door to e-cigarettes being prescribed on the NHS, saying vaping could be a “game changer” for persuading people to give up. Its report found they were 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco and claimed there was no evidence that vaping was a “gateway.”

But research published in January by the Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal found people using vaping devices were 28 per cent less likely to give up than those who avoided them. And earlier this month Stirling University researchers called for careful consideration of the promotion of e-cigarettes after linking their marketing with a rise in their use by school pupils.

But the Royal College of Physicians is now encouraging their use for the first time to help people quit, dismissing concerns that they “normalised” smoking.

While some young people may develop an interest in smoking after seeing others vaping, it is clear e-cigarettes are a much better alternative to tobacco. People using e-cigarettes also face growing restrictions, even though they are largely used as an aid to give up. Now would be the time to resist any further clampdowns and allow smokers as much freedom to use them as possible.