Scottish Labour playing the expectations game well for once?

Orbit Communications - Graeme Downie 03
By Graeme Downie  @graemedownie

There is a trick used by staff in restaurants, essentially a well-intentioned manipulation of a customers’ expectations.  It involves telling someone their food will take 45mins when in fact you know it will only take 25, so when it arrives in 30 the service looks amazing when in fact it was quite poor.  It is a remarkably effective technique.  If done correctly.

In politics, “playing the expectations game” is something of a cliché.  If you are on the up, you downplay expectations lest your supporters assume victory is in the bag and ease off, allowing a surprise victory by your opponent.  If you are on the slide, you must ensure you over-emphasise the impending disaster so you can salvage some kind of embers from the ashes and present it as victory.

Over recent years, Scottish Labour has been forced into the latter position on an almost constant basis with talk of “difficult events”, “tough conditions” and “unique circumstances”.  However, such excuses have been vented on election night TV shows whilst, during the campaign, victory has been presented as inevitable despite extensive polling and canvassing evidence to the contrary.  This not only undermines the point of the expectations game in the first place but also points to a total lack of strategy and understanding of the realities of the situations the party has been facing.

As Leader, Kezia Dugdale has achieved two things which lay the foundation for a possible long term recovery for Scottish Labour, both of which seek to recalibrate and manage the longer-term expectations of voters whilst demonstrating there may be an actual strategy in place.  The first has been to pick a small number of target policy areas where there could be potential flaws in the SNP armour after 2016, notably in housing and education, and attempting to feed these into a broader narrative of tackling poverty through aspiration and ambition.  These are areas where Kezia has the knowledge and experience to be credible and genuine, qualities lacking from recent Scottish Labour leaders but which are of the highest importance to voters.

At the same time, she has opted to try and draw a line under the constitutional debate, making it clear there is room for “Yes” in Scottish Labour, calculating that the party cannot hope to defeat the SNP on the issue in any case.  This has started to put in place the pillars of expectations in voters’ minds about what Scottish Labour will be talking about, as well as the tone and style they might anticipate from the party in the coming years.

However, I assume the Scottish Labour Leader is aware that even the most radical policy and rhetoric now is unlikely to prevent an SNP victory in May.  This is the second achievement and sign that a strategy is being put in place.  Rather than simply politicking and making claims around impending successes, Scottish Labour seems to have decided to manage the expectations of voters by highlighting the areas where they will be challenging the SNP in the future and what alternatives policies there might be instead of grasping at headlines trying to win an election whilst ignoring the electoral realities.

By at least playing the expectations game well, and early, should the SNP not address, or be seen to address, these policy areas after the election then Scottish Labour has at least a small chance of being worthy of a second glance from the electorate.

All of this may only be the very beginnings of an attempt to turn the Scottish Labour ship away from the rocks but it is at least the first credible effort and certainly the only that appears to have a longer-term strategy as part of the package.

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Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 likely to prove a taxing affair

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By Alex Orr @alexorr2016

Barring some disaster of cataclysmic proportions, the SNP is destined to win the next Holyrood elections in May 2016, with an outright majority if polls are to be believed.

For Scotland the key number in the political pantheon is ‘45’.

The SNP won 45 per cent of the constituency vote in the 2011 Holyrood elections and 45 per cent in last September’s independence referendum.

The key to deliver more seats will be for the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to convince some of those who voted ‘No’ and are concerned about a potential second independence referendum to put their cross in the SNP box.

The challenge in Scottish politics is now no longer between left and right, but between those who voted “Yes” and “No” in the referendum.

The really novel aspect of this election however is that for the first time since the first Holyrood elections in 1999, political parties will have to set out revenue-raising plans to match their spending plans.

Scottish Secretary, David Mundell MP, hopes to put the laws handing over full control of Scottish earned income tax to Holyrood into action in 2017 rather than 2018. Scottish politicians will be responsible for setting taxes to raise about a quarter (around £10.6 billion) of what they spend (£43 billion).

The Scottish Conservatives have become devoted tax devolution enthusiasts, now that the traditional Tory offering of cutting taxes is open to them.

The other parties will also have to come forward with their own fiscal proposals.

That said, there is little chance of the Tories being in, or close to power in Holyrood, although don’t be surprised if they gain a few percentage points and seats.

Labour is still in total disarray, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn leading to a steady decline in popularity.

While an SNP victory can be determined with a degree of certainty, the outcome of the big political decision facing the UK, the EU Referendum, is a little more uncertain, with support now neck and neck between “inners” and “outers”.

Prime Minister Cameron has pledged that the referendum will take place before the end of 2017, and don’t discount that happening next year, as governments are more likely to win referendums early in their term of office.

If business leaders want to secure an “in” vote they need to start campaigning now, as 2016 could indeed be a year of significant political decisions.