During the first leader’s debate of this election, in an unguarded, but honest, comment, Lib Dem Leader, Tavish Scott, said: “if this is a personality contest then count me out”.
Tavish would not have been surprised to find that, in the Scotpulse poll conducted immediately after the debate, the voters did exactly that, with just 1% of those polled saying he had won the debate.
The clear winner was SNP leader and current First Minister, Alex Salmond, with 87% of those polled saying that he had won the debate. A long way behind Alex, with 7% of those polled, was Tory leader Annabel Goldie.
As it is quite clear that this election is a two-horse race between Labour and the SNP, it was astonishing to see that Labour’s Iain Gray could muster the support of just 5% of those polled. This means that even among those thinking of voting Labour, the vast majority recognise that Alex Salmond’s grasp of the issues and his ability to stand his ground under pressure far exceeds those of his opponents.
Just as telling was the result of the poll on whether voters came away with a more positve or negative view of the candidates for the post of First Minister.
Again, Alex Salmond was a commanding figure, with 53% of those polled saying they had a more positive view of him following the debate. By contrast, 74% of those polled said the debate had changed their perception of Iain Gray for the wose.
These results came to mind as I watched the unfolding farce of Iain Gray’s abandoned attempt to relaunch Labour’s pet project, the expensive and unnecessary Glasgow Airport Rail Link.
Videos of this event are being viewed as a comedy classic, with multiple postings on Youtube. However, following the leader’s debate, and the results of the follow up poll, the possibility of Labour taking over as the Scottish Government, with Iain Gray as First Minister, is emerging as a serious issue in this election.
The videos of ‘the battle of Central Station’ say a lot about about how Iain Gray might cope with the pressures of being First Minister. While sympathetic journalists have tried to put as positive a spin as they can on an ignominious event, the overall assessment is that Labour’s campaign, far from riding high on the back of GARL, turned into a train wreck.
For someone offering himself as First Minister, Gray’s actions were wrong on so many levels.
Unlike Annabel Goldie a month before, at the first sign of opposition, Gray’s immediate instinct was to retreat and to abandon the planned event. Once started on his retreat, he allowed his minders, including senior politicians, to turn the event into a circus by trying to block the protesters. The decision to hide in a sandwich bar was either Gray’s, demonstrating his very poor judgement, or one of his minders’, in which case, Gray had abandoned any pretence at leadership.
Tavish was right; in addition to being a contest between political parties and ideas, this election is also about ensuring that Scotland has a credible government, with a First Minister and team that can lead the country through tough times. To do that takes a certain kind of personality, which Tavish and his own members appear to recognise he doesn’t have.
However, as the campaign progresses, it is becoming increasingly clear that, like Tavish, Iain Gray also just doesn’t have it.
During his period as Labour Leader, Gray’s approach has been unrelentingly negative. He has now admitted that the SNP was deliberately blocked from delivering on its manifesto promises because it was a minority administration.
Iain Gray is clearly a liability to the Labour Party, and not just because of what he does as leader. Ironically, Gray is also a problem because he gained his post in an election, unlike the equally disastrous Gordon Brown. Gray’s election victory demonstrates that those who know them best judge that any of the alternative leaders within Labour’s ranks would be even worse. A chilling thought!
After the Central Station debacle, Gray’s defence that he had been to the killing fields of Cambodia and to genocide ravaged Rwanda was entirely inappropriate and a sign of desperation. Someone needs to take him aside and tell him that, as First Minister, his job would not be to turn up after the crisis; it is the job of the First Minister to avert the crisis. By choosing to turn and run in Central Station, Gray turned boring footage of a man shouting at him, which would have been quickly forgotten, into a Benny Hill style extravaganza. He turned a five minute drama into a full blown crisis and, in so doing, demonstrated beyond question his inability to act under pressure.
By contrast, under Alex Salmond’s leadership, the SNP survived four years of minority administration and never once faced a serious challenge from Labour, whether under Gray’s leadership or Wendy Alexander’s. Wendy has seen the writing on the wall – that the top job is not for her – and has departed. It is too late for Iain Gray to turn and run from the election, but there is still time for Scotland to avert the oncoming disaster of a Labour administration with him, or any of his colleagues, as First Minister.