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Editor’s note

Mandy Rhodes

Busy saying nothing In so many ways, this is a pivotal election.

May 2007 broke the back of a presumption of Labour dominance in Scottish politics at both council and parliamentary level but it also introduced a whole new form of administration and proved that you don’t need to be big to be effective nor indeed to be a supporter of the Union to be integral to its management. True, there has been no earth- shattering legislation to rival the landmark smoking ban but neither has the country come to a grinding halt. And while the opposition will argue that the SNP has managed to single- handedly turn back Scotland’s economic and unemployment clock, it is clear that this is not true and as Labour liked to frequently argue in a past life, the UK’s economic crisis was more to do with a global contagion than the fault of any one government. Regardless, the SNP has won the respect of the civil service, civic leaders and many key business chiefs who, while they wouldn’t normally be natural or enthusiastic bedfellows of the Nationalist cause, will admit that they have been impressed. Tose involved in renewables in particular, are expressing anxiety that Iain Gray will never be able to grandstand on the world stage the way Alex Salmond has and in their terms, grandstanding has been an attribute and not a curse. Te remarkable growth in Scotland’s reputation as a hub for the green economy is a credit to the SNP administration and while carbon emission targets may not be as seductively tangible as a smoking ban, it has transformed the way Scotland is viewed globally as a market leader in renewables innovation and expertise. Tis election campaign should be building on that USP so it’s no wonder Iain Gray is now pondering the prized opportunities presented by the green economy. Indeed, Gray has come round to accepting much of the SNP thinking on: a council tax freeze; a graduate contribution; and on the future of A&E departments and while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it simply exposes the fact that in this election, there is little to choose between our largest parties. Perhaps in an election where there is no financial room for extravagant claims for the future, all the

parties can do is to try and trump each other on what are regarded as popular policies. Tis is devolution’s first austerity election and a test of the real political mettle of our parties and whether they have policies, principles and ideologies that can withstand the quick- fix temptation of simply offering to spend their way into government. But the signs are not good. Quick on the heels of the phoney election campaign, we now have the bizarre game of manifesto-wait-and-see. With the party conferences over, the election campaign officially under way and with less than 40 days until we go to the polls, we still have had no sight of the manifestos. Indeed, party activists have not seen the manifestos and won’t until

“Quick on the heels of the phoney election campaign, we now have the bizarre game of manifesto-wait- and-see”

less than a month before 5 May. Why is that? Don’t the parties know what they want to offer? Some have had four years in opposition to work on it while the SNP has had all the privilege of being in office to further its plans so why do we have to go through this farce? Is it because they are all frightened of having their promises held up to scrutiny? Elections should be about choice but with the main parties appearing to converge on so many things, there is an unhealthy absence of real political debate and more just an exercise in pedantry. We have a parliament full of left-of-centre politicians (even Annabel Goldie wanders into natural Labour territory with domestic violence, drug misuse and the need for good child care) whose only major disagreement is on the constitution but even then it has been the unionists that have moved the goal posts further apart from the ties that bind than the SNP has ever managed to. Scotland has a fixed amount of money to spend which is,

Since last time... dinner with Mike Russell and his wife after the SNP conference…drinks with the Tories in Perth…a friendly cuddle with Andy Kerr at the Labour conference in Glasgow…and a random thumbs-up sign from Ed Miliband… (that’s my party balance intact…)

28 March 2011 Holyrood 3

in turn, radically reduced by the heavy health and local government commitments so politicians have this small pot of cash and yet they manage to make such a meal out of what they think they can do to change the face and fate of our nation. Tey all claim to stand up for Scotland but frankly, Ed Miliband coming to Glasgow and claiming that putting Labour into power in Holyrood will frighten Cameron enough to cause the Coalition to fracture, is, frankly, patronising and ridiculous. It seems to me that at this late stage in an election campaign, with nothing down on paper to hold up to examination, we are faced with a lot of politicians simply competing to say absolutely nothing at all but to at least say it better than their rivals and hope for the best. Surely the best weapon in this campaign would be to have a good, well thought out distinctive and costed plan for the future which would stand up to any scrutiny and have Scotland at its heart. Tere are people around the world literally dying for democracy and yet, we might as well choose our government by cutting cards.

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