Iain Gray relaunched the Scottish Labour campaign today in a desperate attempt to halt the SNP surge which has put Alex Salmond on course for a second term in government.
The Scottish Labour leader made a speech in Glasgow to unveil a major change in strategy.
Instead of pushing a message of “vote Labour to protect Scotland from Tory cuts”, Mr Gray went all out to attack the SNP, warning that a vote for the Nationalists would threaten Scotland’s recovery.
The decision to change tack this late in the campaign is recognition of the failure of Labour’s core message so far.
As the campaign has gone on, so Labour’s vote has fallen away and so the SNP’s popularity has increased – culminating in the two polls over the course of the last week which gave the Nationalists a lead of between 10 and 13 points over Labour.
With only ten days to go, Labour managers decided they had to do something different. Mr Gray’s switch from an anti-Tory message to an anti-SNP message is part of the new approach.
Labour insiders have also suggested that the party’s UK leader, Ed Miliband, will start taking a more proactive role in the Scottish campaign. Both he and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, are expected in Scotland this week.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown is also expected to up his campaign appearances this week as Labour throw everything at the last ten days of the campaign – including all their heavyweight figures – in the hope of denting the SNP’s lead.
Mr Gray said: “Scotland can elect a Labour government that will fight for the things that really matter, or they can elect an SNP government that will forever be distracted by its vision of tearing Scotland out of Britain.”
The Scottish Labour leader accused the SNP government of costing Scotland tens of thousands of jobs, and he added: “When they ask you about Alex Salmond, tell them he only cares about one job – his, not yours. And he only cares about one dream – his, not yours.”
Mr Gray confronted the issue of the polls and the SNP’s lead over Labour.
“Today the polls put the SNP in front, they have a real chance of forming a government – and what is Alex Salmond’s first reaction? Not a plan for jobs, not the promise of action on youth unemployment, not a programme to get the economy growing. His only plan is a plan for separation,” Mr Gray said.
And he added: “We stand on the edge now for ten days. The message on separation is simple. If you don’t want it, don’t vote for it, because Alex Salmond says a second term will give him the moral authority to pursue it.”
Today’s speech marked a clear shift in message from Labour. Until now, Labour’s message (as shown by their political broadcast which doesn’t even mention the SNP) has been all about the Conservatives in government at Westminster.
Now, though, Labour have changed focus and decided to attack the party’s main rivals for a change.
In some ways, it is difficult to understand why it has taken so long to come to this decision. Labour managers will be hoping, however, that they haven’t left it too late.
The aim is to try to draw wavering Liberal Democrat voters away from the SNP by scaring them with visions of an independent Scotland.
It might work to a certain extent, but it is also an overwhelmingly negative message and that carries risks with it too, mainly of alienating voters.
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said in response: “Labour’s relaunch is doomed to sink, because it is totally negative – at a time when the people of Scotland want positive leadership.”