Labour faces election cash straitjacket

THE Scottish Labour Party is facing a serious financial squeeze ahead of next year’s parliament elections, The Scotsman has learned.

Financial constraints have been imposed ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament elections in an attempt to save money and to give the party the resources it needs to fight the campaign.

The latest attempt to save money came yesterday when MSPs were told at a Labour group meeting to contact party members personally wherever possible, because that was more cost-effective than huge mailshots sent out from party headquarters in Glasgow.

However, some MSPs are now worried that the limits being placed on them will cost the party seats next May.

A spokesman insisted that the party had the resources necessary to fight the campaign but admitted MSPs had been reminded to use the cheapest method possible when contacting members. There is a 1.5 million cap on spending by political parties during Scottish elections but it is understood that Labour will not get near that mark this time round.

The Labour Party nationally is facing a debt of 6 million and has made it clear to all sections of the party that money has to be saved wherever possible.

This means the Scottish party cannot call on the sort of financial muscle it used in the 1999 election.

But the Scottish party also cannot call on the political heavyweights who helped run that successful campaign and it is this, as well as worries over money, that has caused a backlash within the party at what is regarded as a lack of preparation for next year’s elections.

Some MSPs have started grumbling, both at the way the campaign is being organised and at the lack of communication which has left them wondering what is going on.

One MSP said: "There appears to be a lack of vision from the top. No-one knows what the strategy is.

"The Labour Group is not being told so we don’t know whether anything is being done, or whether preparations are being made but we are just not being told about them."

The MSP added: "There is no consultation with the Labour Group. Things are decided and we are told, it is effectively a fait accompli. Money is an issue, we were told to contact members ourselves through the constituencies because it was cheaper than sending documents out centrally."

Particular criticism has been directed at Patricia Ferguson, the Glasgow Maryhill MSP and minister for the parliament, who has been put in charge of election preparations.

One MSP said: "Patricia Ferguson has never run an election before, certainly not one of this size, and we haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that she knows what she is doing."

Ms Ferguson is being helped in the campaign by Andy Kerr, the finance minister, while Iain Gray, the enterprise minister, is in charge of developing the manifesto.

None of them has run a major campaign before and all three have demanding ministerial jobs which take up most of their time.

The campaign in 1999 was orchestrated by Douglas Alexander, the Paisley South MP, with the help of senior figures from London, and monitored constantly by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor.

A Labour insider, who was closely involved with the campaign in 1999, said: "At this stage before the last election, Matthew Taylor [an election expert from London] was up in Scotland, there were monthly meetings with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, there were four people in the press office, there was a media monitoring unit and a rebuttal unit. It is clear that level of preparation has not happened this time."

The Labour spokesman said: "The party’s financial position nationally is not a secret but resources are not a problem for this campaign."

And he added: "It is far more efficient to have people contacted by their MSPs than for us to write to them."