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Policy over pomp for Labour's back-to-basics manifesto launch

Katie Reardon

On Wednesday morning in the Grassmarket Community Centre, a sleek development nestled amongst the towering surroundings of Edinburgh's Old Town, Scottish Labour finally revealed its manifesto. With just eight days left until polling, the launch signalled the end of the pomp and ceremony of the manifesto launches and sounded the klaxon for the final countdown to the election.

Set to a backdrop of a crowded, rather small room filled with members of the party loyal, the launch was something of a serious occasion. Void of the media curiosity witnessed at UKIP, the excitement of the Greens, japes of the Liberal Democrats, Ruth-centrism of the Tories and the celebrity sleekness of SNP, Labour’s launch had a staunch focus on policy, rather than politicians or popularity.

Claiming the manifesto resided within “the best traditions of the Labour Party”, Kezia Dugdale proceeded to set out the party’s main commitments on taxation, education and investment in public services, hailing the pledges as a return to Labour’s past and “boldest best”. Acknowledging the party’s focus remained on battles of policy rather than personality, she took aim at the SNP as she quipped “our party's manifesto isn't about the politician on the front cover”. She went on to highlight party achievements of creating the minimum wage, establishing the NHS and developing of the Scottish Parliament, all seeking to emphasise the party’s history and entrenched presence in Scotland.

This focus on the historic and ideological achievements of Labour was paired with an impassioned rhetoric on the party’s commitment to creating and investing in the future of Scotland. Irvine teenager and ex-SNP member, Erin McAuley, took to the stage to praise Kezia’s personal commitment to eradicating poverty and inequality through investing in education for young people. McAuley’s vision of an “inclusive, collective and just” Scotland was later echoed in Kez’s battle cry promise to close educational attainment gaps within a generation. This focus on education, perceived as an area of weakness for the SNP, has been evident throughout Labour’s campaign… and perhaps explains their party leader’s panache for visiting nurseries.

Considering the manifesto commitments broadly, it arguably represents a leftward shift for the party – a clear attempt to distance itself from Red Tory branding – as it sets out an agenda based around an affirmed opposition to Trident, a commitment to oppose austerity and an increase to the top rate of income tax.

Running in tandem, Labour’s opposition to a second referendum was evident throughout the launch. As Kezia set out her intention to “use the powers” rather than “wait and wait for a distant promised land”, the party’s attempt to appeal simultaneously to no-voters and the political left was apparent. Asserting the Tories weren’t the defenders of the Union and the SNP were creating “a conveyer belt for Tory cuts”, Kez sought to carve out a position for Labour distinct from the ground already claimed by the SNP and the Conservatives.

When asked about current party support and the polls, Kezia Dugdale responded confidently that there was a “tremendous amount of support for our policy platform”. But with an Ipsos-MORI poll, published hours after the launch, placing the Scottish Conservatives ahead of Labour on the regional list vote by two percentage points and Labour ahead on the constituency vote by a one percent advantage, it appears that the race to snatch second place is a dead heat. 

Speaking of the party’s courage to “do things differently”, Kez finished her speech by appealing directly to undecided voters, presenting Labour’s manifesto as a clear “prospectus for change”. With the 5th May fast approaching, it won’t be long until the we see how his re-branding of the Labour Party has resonated with voters.

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