Friday, 5 February 2016

The softly-spoken magic spells

On Tuesday we had a Guardian editorial telling us that the latest policy pronouncement by Labour in Scotland, the addition of a penny to income tax rates across all tax bands for Scots, together with a rebate scheme for the lowest paid, was 'a big, bold move'.  Oddly, the Guardian did not say the same when Willie Rennie announced a similar policy the previous Wednesday, so it would appear that the newspaper has reverted back to its traditional Labour-supporting stance.

The most interesting thing about the editorial was this sentence:
Alternatively it may shift nothing at all. Either way, it is high time that the SNP’s “best of both worlds” approach is challenged effectively.
When I first read it, the sentence jarred.  The SNP's best of both worlds approach?  Surely that was one of Better Together's slogans towards the end of the referendum campaign, first adopted by one G Brown and repeated ad nauseam?

The Guardian has a bit of a reputation, as far as Scottish politics is concerned, for simply taking Labour press releases and regurgitating them pretty much without question, so it would be a fair assumption, I think, that the use of the 'best of both worlds' approach came from such a press release.  An odd turn of phrase, perhaps a mistake.

On Wednesday the calls from the Lib Dems and Labour for the 1p increase to tax bands were rejected during the debate on the draft Holyrood budget, voted down by the SNP and the Tories. The debate was notable for the fact the Jackie Baillie, when questioned on how the rebate part of Labour's scheme would work, said that the details didn't matter, it was the principle that mattered.  It was also notable for the fact that Labour claimed to want to work with the SNP 'to end Tory austerity in Scotland', conveniently overlooking the fact that, had they campaigned for Scottish independence we would currently have been on the threshold of leaving the UK and therefore the very Tory austerity they rail against.

Then on Thursday we had First Minister's Questions, the weekly circus that really does no credit to most of our politicians.  Naturally Kezia Dugdale's question was on the 1p on income tax policy that had been rejected.  During her peroration she uttered the phrase 'The SNP and the Tories stood should to shoulder'.  Again, an interesting turn of phrase, one usually applied to Labour in regard to the fact they campaigned with the Tories against Scottish independence.

So, are we seeing the start of the next Labour strategy?  Clearly, it would seem the Labour thinking goes,  phrases like 'standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories' and 'best of both worlds' are at the root of their catastrophic loss of support in Scotland.  That being the case, let's apply them to the SNP and watch their popularity nose-dive.  Cause and effect, like a magic spell.  So obvious when you think about it.

It's not going to work though.  People are not stupid, and can remember the original authors or targets of phrases and the circumstances in which they were used.  Words are important, not least because they have associations.  Simply applying phrases to your opponents that were originally applied to you won't magically have the same effect as they had on you because of those associations.  It will be interesting to see if Labour continue in this vein.  If so, it implies a woeful lack of any real political talent in Labour in Scotland.

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