Whether Labour or the Conservatives takes second place on Thursday (May 5) is the talking point of the Scottish election. Betting company Paddy Power thinks Labour; Professor John Curtice says it could go either way.
Professor Curtice is probably right. He knows when to poll them, and he knows when not to call them - as “The Pollster”, a satirical version of the the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” dedicated to the Prof by Vic Rodrick and Annie Gunner Logan has it. (For reasons of copyright etcetera, the pair’s sharp-witted parodies are only ever heard live and if they announce dates for this year’s Fringe, grab a ticket.)
Whichever way the cookie crumbles, the opposition vote is likely to be split between Labour and the Tories. So is there scope for them to pool their resources in a new politics? Is it possible for Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson to work together on at least some issues to form a coherent opposition?
When Dugdale came out as gay recently, Davidson tweeted "Genuinely pleased Kez feels comfortable enough to come out." Davidson has been out as gay since she became leader of the Scottish Conservatives and last year she featured her Irish partner Jen Wilson in a party political broadcast.
In the tweet, Davidson's use of the nickname Kez and the phrasing are warm. Perhaps the women, who are both in their mid 30s, have friends in common. They seem to get on well on a personal level and they may have a basis for working together on areas such as defending the Union, civil liberties, and perhaps broader issues.
A major concern for ‘No’ voters like me is that when we vote on May 5, many of us want to send a clear message that we don’t want a second referendum on independence. But Kezia Dugdale has sent out mixed messages on this. The polls say too that most people think Davidson, now an experienced leader who has grown into her role, is more likely than Dugdale to be able to take on the very able Sturgeon.
In the last Holyrood Parliament, the SNP ran Holyrood as it wished. There was no effective opposition. SNP MSPs did not vote against the party line. Committees meant to scrutinise legislation were toothless. Dog's dinner laws regularly hit the statute book.
Opponents to this last one included Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and former Principal of St Andrew’s University Louise Richardson who said the law was badly drafted and a “recipe for conflict”. But these cogent critics were ignored, characterised as ivory tower elitists.
Kezia Dugdale is currently Scottish Labour's best hope. She seems smart, competent and as far as a politican can be, honest. But it will be a struggle to hold up the Labour vote. Traditional centre left parties are struggling across the continent
In a recent article entitled ‘Rose, Thou Art Sick,’the Economist, notes that at the turn of the 21st century, you could have driven “from Inverness in Scotland to Vilnius in Lithuania” without crossing a country governed by the right. But no longer. The centre left vote has plummeted.
Last year, left parties lost power in Denmark and fell to their worst-ever results in Finland, Poland and Spain. The Left is still involved a junior of party of government in Germany and the Netherlands and in wobbly coalitions in Sweden, Portugal and Austria, where it was once the natural party of government. In France, Francois Hollande’s lame duck presidency is drawing to a close and he may not even make the run-off in next year’s election. In Greece, the social democrat party Pasok is almost non-existent, and even Italy’s dynamic Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is losing support. Rome’s mayoral election in May may be lost to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
Parties that are resurgent in the modern world are largely populist; they draw their support from the politically excluded and marginalised. Norbert Hofer who recently came first in the Austrian Presidential ballot on a platform of anti-immigration and increased welfare proposals is typical.
So it’s unfair to blame Dugdale for the woes of Scottish Labour. Like other centre left parties, they became associated with austerity and many of their causes such as equal rights and childcare were embraced by other mainstream parties.
Personally, I live in the only Edinburgh constituency which Labour hung on to last time, Edinburgh Northern and Leith and I will vote for Lesley Hinds, an experienced candidate who was a former Lord Provost.
But Ruth Davidson has become one of the most talented politicians of her generation in Scotland, and a strong voice of opposition to the dominance of the SNP. On Thursday, many Scots may find themselves like me, in the unaccustomed position of considering using their second vote for Ruth Davidson's Conservative Party.