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Harriet Harman

Iain Gray

Iain Gray

To bash or not to bash, that is the question – at least it seems to be for Scottish Labour.

Amid all the noise and extravagance over policies and spending promises, there was another message that came out of last weekend’s Scottish Labour conference in Oban – confusion over the Liberal Democrats.

From senior UK figures addressing conference, there was no hesitation: bash the Lib Dems and bash them again. Labour in London has developed something approaching hatred for the Lib Dems.

Not only did the Lib Dems walk away from a potential deal with Labour after the election in May, but these supposedly left-leaning liberals then got into bed with Conservatives.

They are in government and they are imposing Tory cuts – it really couldn’t be any worse for Labour, hence the Lib Dem bashing from all Labour figures from London.

Incidentally, this was obviously the provenance of the now infamous “ginger rodent” remark by Harriet Harman. She believed that she could go as far as she liked in deriding the Lib Dems, believing that her Labour colleagues held the Lib Dems in as much contempt as she did.

But they didn’t and they don’t and that is where the confusion lies.

The truth is that Scottish Labour don’t know what to think about the Lib Dems. They are both political opponents and potential partners in government and this is causing problems.

Look to Iain Gray’s speech. There was barely a line of anti-Lib Dem language. It was all designed to attack the SNP. Mr Gray certainly knows who his opponents are. The problem is, he doesn’t quite know who is friends are.

But there is more to it too. Labour’s attacks on the SNP are built around one simple premise – the Nationalists broke a host of manifesto commitments when they got into government so can’t be trusted.

However, Labour leaders know that the reason the SNP administration failed on so many fronts was because of minority government – not because of a lack of will to implement key policies.

Alex Salmond’s government has not been able to implement a raft of manifesto pledges because it couldn’t secure the support of other parties in the chamber. It has tried and failed because of a lack of consensus.

The SNP government is suffering from inertia and has lost momentum purely because of its lack of a majority. Labour leaders know this full well and this brings us on to the debate now circling around the Labour Party at Holyrood. If Labour wins the election in May, does it opt for a minority administration or go for a coalition?

If it opts for minority, it risks suffering from the fate which has befallen the SNP – failure to get anything done, a failure which would then come back to haunt Labour at the elections in 2015.

If it is to be coalition, there is only one potential partner for Labour: the Liberal Democrats. So, despite the contempt bubbling up from London towards the Lib Dems, Mr Gray and his lieutenants are – wisely – being a bit more circumspect.

They are in the process of rolling out a host of expensive policy pledges which they would almost certainly be in no position to implement if they were in a minority government.

In fact, it is doubtful whether a Labour Scottish Government would even get its budget through if it wasn’t in a formal coalition.

This is the reason for the hesitancy over the Lib Dems. Yes, they want to attack them but they don’t want to sour relations to such an extent that the Libs take such offence they walk away from any post-election deal.

It is a tricky line to tread but Mr Gray is erring on the side of caution rather than attack, at least for the moment.

As for the Lib Dems, they are in a very good bargaining position – and they know it. They know they represent Labour’s only potential coalition partners and, as such, they know there is no-one Labour can use to play them off.

But the Libs also know that a coalition with Labour would do them a lot of good politically north of the border. There is no doubt that their reputation, at least in the left-leaning world of Scottish politics, has taken a battering from their formal coalition with the Tories at Westminster.

They won’t lose many seats in May, but only because their MSPs tend to command solid personal votes locally. They know they are suffering in the polls as a direct result of their ties to the Tories.

A pact with Labour would allow them to re-establish their left-leaning, liberal credentials and put distance between themselves and the Conservatives. It could be very useful, not just in Scotland but across the UK too.

Some observers have suggested that it would be impossible for the Lib Dems to go into a coalition with Labour in Scotland while in coalition with the Tories at Westminster but it is perfectly possible.

Just look at the range of coalitions that exist at local government level. There are link-ups between almost every party in our town halls and it has no effect on the national picture.

It is the same at Holyrood and Westminster level. Politics is ruled by expediency (particularly Lib Dem politics) and if the Lib Dems believe they would benefit from a tie-up with Labour at Holyrood, they will do exactly that – regardless of what is going on at Westminster.

The one thing missing from all this is the one big symbolic policy which the Lib Dems want to see implemented and which ends up being the price of their support. In 1999, it was the abolition of tuition fees, in 2003 it was PR for local government elections. What will it be this time?

A possible clue came this week from the news that Michael Moore, the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary, intends to drive through some of the Calman proposals quicker than expected.

The Scottish Government could get power over a range of issues before next summer – including control over the running of Scottish elections. It would only take a tiny tweak for Holyrood to be given control over its electoral system as well.

Having secured the single transferable vote system for local government elections in Scotland, maybe the Lib Dems will demand STV for Holyrood elections too? That way they would achieve something concrete which will give them even more power in the future and – in a suitable approach for these days of austerity – it won’t actually cost anything to implement.

Could Labour live with that? If the result was four years of stability, the implementation of Labour policies and budget security – you bet they would.

Iain Gray

Iain Gray

To bash or not to bash, that is the question – at least it seems to be for Scottish Labour.

Amid all the noise and extravagance over policies and spending promises, there was another message that came out of last weekend’s Scottish Labour conference in Oban – confusion over the Liberal Democrats.

From senior UK figures addressing conference, there was no hesitation: bash the Lib Dems and bash them again. Labour in London has developed something approaching hatred for the Lib Dems.

Not only did the Lib Dems walk away from a potential deal with Labour after the election in May, but these supposedly left-leaning liberals then got into bed with Conservatives.

They are in government and they are imposing Tory cuts – it really couldn’t be any worse for Labour, hence the Lib Dem bashing from all Labour figures from London.

Incidentally, this was obviously the provenance of the now infamous “ginger rodent” remark by Harriet Harman. She believed that she could go as far as she liked in deriding the Lib Dems, believing that her Labour colleagues held the Lib Dems in as much contempt as she did.

But they didn’t and they don’t and that is where the confusion lies.

The truth is that Scottish Labour don’t know what to think about the Lib Dems. They are both political opponents and potential partners in government and this is causing problems.

Look to Iain Gray’s speech. There was barely a line of anti-Lib Dem language. It was all designed to attack the SNP. Mr Gray certainly knows who his opponents are. The problem is, he doesn’t quite know who is friends are.

But there is more to it too. Labour’s attacks on the SNP are built around one simple premise – the Nationalists broke a host of manifesto commitments when they got into government so can’t be trusted.

However, Labour leaders know that the reason the SNP administration failed on so many fronts was because of minority government – not because of a lack of will to implement key policies.

Alex Salmond’s government has not been able to implement a raft of manifesto pledges because it couldn’t secure the support of other parties in the chamber. It has tried and failed because of a lack of consensus.

The SNP government is suffering from inertia and has lost momentum purely because of its lack of a majority. Labour leaders know this full well and this brings us on to the debate now circling around the Labour Party at Holyrood. If Labour wins the election in May, does it opt for a minority administration or go for a coalition?

If it opts for minority, it risks suffering from the fate which has befallen the SNP – failure to get anything done, a failure which would then come back to haunt Labour at the elections in 2015.

If it is to be coalition, there is only one potential partner for Labour: the Liberal Democrats. So, despite the contempt bubbling up from London towards the Lib Dems, Mr Gray and his lieutenants are – wisely – being a bit more circumspect.

They are in the process of rolling out a host of expensive policy pledges which they would almost certainly be in no position to implement if they were in a minority government.

In fact, it is doubtful whether a Labour Scottish Government would even get its budget through if it wasn’t in a formal coalition.

This is the reason for the hesitancy over the Lib Dems. Yes, they want to attack them but they don’t want to sour relations to such an extent that the Libs take such offence they walk away from any post-election deal.

It is a tricky line to tread but Mr Gray is erring on the side of caution rather than attack, at least for the moment.

As for the Lib Dems, they are in a very good bargaining position – and they know it. They know they represent Labour’s only potential coalition partners and, as such, they know there is no-one Labour can use to play them off.

But the Libs also know that a coalition with Labour would do them a lot of good politically north of the border. There is no doubt that their reputation, at least in the left-leaning world of Scottish politics, has taken a battering from their formal coalition with the Tories at Westminster.

They won’t lose many seats in May, but only because their MSPs tend to command solid personal votes locally. They know they are suffering in the polls as a direct result of their ties to the Tories.

A pact with Labour would allow them to re-establish their left-leaning, liberal credentials and put distance between themselves and the Conservatives. It could be very useful, not just in Scotland but across the UK too.

Some observers have suggested that it would be impossible for the Lib Dems to go into a coalition with Labour in Scotland while in coalition with the Tories at Westminster but it is perfectly possible.

Just look at the range of coalitions that exist at local government level. There are link-ups between almost every party in our town halls and it has no effect on the national picture.

It is the same at Holyrood and Westminster level. Politics is ruled by expediency (particularly Lib Dem politics) and if the Lib Dems believe they would benefit from a tie-up with Labour at Holyrood, they will do exactly that – regardless of what is going on at Westminster.

The one thing missing from all this is the one big symbolic policy which the Lib Dems want to see implemented and which ends up being the price of their support. In 1999, it was the abolition of tuition fees, in 2003 it was PR for local government elections. What will it be this time?

A possible clue came this week from the news that Michael Moore, the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary, intends to drive through some of the Calman proposals quicker than expected.

The Scottish Government could get power over a range of issues before next summer – including control over the running of Scottish elections. It would only take a tiny tweak for Holyrood to be given control over its electoral system as well.

Having secured the single transferable vote system for local government elections in Scotland, maybe the Lib Dems will demand STV for Holyrood elections too? That way they would achieve something concrete which will give them even more power in the future and – in a suitable approach for these days of austerity – it won’t actually cost anything to implement.

Could Labour live with that? If the result was four years of stability, the implementation of Labour policies and budget security – you bet they would.

<em>Picture: Jon Mitchell</em>

Picture: Jon Mitchell

The news agenda for the first half of the week was dominated by a pair of dark-haired, youngish-looking brothers. And the weekend seems to be the same. No, not the Milibands again – that bit of sibling rivalry is history, for now at least.

Step forward the Molinari brothers, part of the European Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor. And you know what (to use a Milibandism), one of them is even called Ed.
The deluge and delays on day one of the contest were such that Edoardo and Francesco Molinari failed to reach the first tee. They were rested for the morning fourballs, ahead of being paired together for the afternoon foursomes.

So are there any similarities between the two sets of siblings, the Milis and the Molis? In truth, not really, at least not thus far. It isn’t even the case that both Eds are the younger brothers, as Edoardo Molinari (aged 29) is 21 months older than Francesco. The Molis joined the pro golf tour in 2004 (Francesco) and 2006 (Edoardo); the Milis did the political equivalent – being elected as MPs – in 2001 (David) and 2005 (Ed).
The Molinaris are the third set of Ryder Cup brothers, and the first since Bernard and Geoffrey Hunt in 1963. To find a pair of siblings sitting simultaneously in cabinet at Westminster – as the Milibands did during the latter stages of the last Labour administration – one has to go back to the Stanleys, Edward and Oliver, in 1938. (A tragic pair: they died aged 44 and 54 respectively.)

This lack of UK political sibling pairings is surprising, given that it’s fairly common in other countries – the Kennedys and Bushes in the USA, for instance, or Jarosław Kaczyński and his late twin brother Lech in Poland.

Had the guiding light and political mentor of the Milibands been Peter Mandelson, that would at least have allowed Mili Moli Mandy jokes to be made. But while it might have been true, at least to an extent, for David Miliband, from Ed’s recent interviews it seems that the teenage household heroes were Michael Foot and Tony Benn, either of whom was likely to drop in for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The real test of the Molinari brotherly bonds – and hence any real similarity to the Milibands – will come over the weekend. What if one Molinari significantly outperforms the other during their initial foursomes, such that Colin Montgomerie drops the off-form sibling for the next phase while leaving the other in the limelight, paired with Lee Westwood or Miguel Ángel Jiménez?

What if one brother is then caught on camera having stern words with a team-mate before flouncing off into the golfing wilderness? It probably won’t happen, but there have been stranger coincidences.

The weekend will also reveal whether either Italian has a propensity to hook the ball – to hit it to the left in other words, given that they’re both right-handed. This would be a neat similarity, just as if one of them holes the cup-winning putt and Monty, in his victorious captain’s speech, uses the phrase “a towering figure” – as Harriet Harman did this week with regard to David Miliband.

To be honest, none of the comparisons and coincidences really click. It would have been nice had the Molinaris been the offspring of a noted Marxist theorist – or any kind of political theorist, or even the cleaner in a constituency office – but their father is a dentist and their mother an architect.

And does either Molinari have a wonky mouth or bear a certain resemblance to a monkey? Again, sadly not. Edoardo Molinari does, however, go by the nickname Dodo – a species that in the course of the past week has acquired a certain connection with New Labour.

Perhaps the best point of contact between the Ryder Cup and the Labour leadership election is a more general one. The Labour Party employs a convoluted and decidedly odd system whereby, when in opposition, its leader’s choice of shadow cabinet talent is determined by a biennial vote held at conference – a sort of political order of merit. The party could and probably should ditch that, and switch to the golfing model instead: elect three-quarters of the shadow cabinet the old way, while leaving room for three or four “captain’s picks”.

One final thought. Like all professional golfers, the Molinari brothers employ caddies – Colin Byrne in Edoardo’s case, Jorge Gamarra in Francesco’s. Caddies traditionally never stray far from their paymaster’s side, putting in long hours of legwork, doing all sorts of dogsbody jobs, absorbing their man’s ego and anger, almost doting on him.

Rather oddly, throughout this past week it appears that Ed Miliband has employed a caddie of his own. Almost always in shot, hanging around, taking notes, constantly by the new leader’s side. His name? Eddie Izzard.

What’s that all about?

Tyldesley miners outside the Miners Hall during the 1926 General StrikeEurope is bracing itself for a wave of mass industrial action. As austerity measures start to bite in several EU countries, including France, Greece and Spain, strikes are already planned. Now, those countries include the UK. At its annual congress in Manchester, the TUC agreed to co-ordinate protests here as well.

Some unions have already started preparing to direct their members on to a collision course with the government. Their leaders lined up to condemn the coalition for its spending cuts. They argue that those implemented have already hit public sector workers. They claim that over 200,000 jobs have already been lost or are under threat of redundancy.

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, attacked what he dubbed “the demolition Government”. He admitted that unions were facing “stark realities” following the general election, explaining that he meant “the Government’s determination to drive through massive spending cuts, which will not only devastate the services we rely on, but do untold damage to our economic prospects.”

Mr Barber went on to say that no-one could deny the depth of the recession, which he maintained was made in the boardrooms of the world’s banks. “Rightly, governments made sure that the banking system did not collapse. They took emergency action to ensure that recession did not turn into slump. They showed that we did not have to repeat the 1930s”

But in his speech, Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, insisted that it was a “lie” that the country could not afford decent public services. “If there’s money available to bail out banks and bonuses, if there’s money for war and Trident, there’s money for our public services,” he said. “If money’s tight, never mind a pay freeze for our members, how about a pay freeze for bankers?”

And it looks likely that the unions will have support from at least some leading members of Labour as well. In her keynote speech to the TUC, Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, backed union plans to mount a massive campaign of co-ordinated strike action.

“We will not be silenced by the right-wing characterising protest as undemocratic,” she said. “Trade unionists have the democratic rights to protest. We will not be deterred by suggestions that this is illegitimate – it is perfectly within the law. We will not be cowed by accusations that this is irresponsible and putting services at risk – the very opposite is true.”

Militant left-wingers, like Bob Crow of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, have called for civil disobedience to defend public services. He drew loud applause when he said: “We lie down or stand up and fight.”

If their plans come to fruition, this country is facing a bitter series of strikes. The protests and demonstrations could start as early as next month and last for years.

That could be the shape of things to come in several EU countries. Looking at the wider picture, Juan Somavia, director general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), told an international conference in Oslo it was “natural” for trade unions to protest and help “vent steam” in societies hurt by job losses. But they should also be involved in deals to keep the economy going.

The ILO’s latest statistics show just how damaging the recession has been. Up to 30 million people have become unemployed in the last three years, mainly in the developed world. If it hadn’t been for the stimulus packages introduced by many Governments, that figure could well have been 50 million or more.

It also warns that almost 450 million people will try to join the global workforce over the next decade. That’s double the number currently without a job. The ILO says that raises “the spectre of a lost generation”. Somavia wants governments to extend measures to foster the still fragile recovery and help support jobs.

In this, he’s supported, perhaps unexpectedly by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Its managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now supports government intervention. He insisted at the same conference that it was a “misleading caricature” to think that the fund cared only about the austerity cuts usually associated with its programmes.

Unemployment is “about far more than just a pay cheque”, he said, adding that schemes to extend unemployment benefits helped maintain demand and morale. They also gave short-term incentives to companies to retain more workers but at reduced hours and wages.

Reuters has reported that several European leaders have issued warnings about the risks of a “crisis of confidence”. In Spain for instance, the unemployment rate has hit 20%. It has led that country’s prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, to claim that the “worst crisis would be a crisis of pessimism, of a lack of confidence, of resignation. Europe must not fall into that.”

But the news agency reports that the secretary of state for work and pensions here, Iain Duncan Smith, insisted that “everyone is throwing out a lot of stimulus, but to lesser and lesser effect. We think it’s time to start pulling that back. If it goes on, we will start to squeeze out the private economy so it won’t have room to grow.”

The European Commission believes that some growth will come anyway. In its latest economic forecast, it suggests that the seven largest members of the EU, including the UK, are recovering at a faster pace than previously envisaged. Between them, these seven countries represent almost 80% of the European Union’s GDP.

Looking forward, Europe’s economists believe that GDP will grow by 0.5% in the third quarter of the year and by slightly less in the fourth. They argue that, for 2010 as a whole, growth should now reach 1.8%, a sizeable upward revision on six months ago. At the same time, they expect inflation to remain either steady or to fall slightly.

However, the commission’s report insists that “uncertainty at the current juncture is high, with non-negligible risks to the EU growth outlook. On the upside, the impetus from the export-led industrial rebound to private consumption could prove stronger than assumed in the baseline, as was the case in the first half of the year.”

The EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn told a news conference that “the European economy is clearly on a path of recovery, more strongly than forecast in the spring, and the rebound of domestic demand bodes well for the job market. However, uncertainties remain and safeguarding financial stability and continuing fiscal consolidation remain key priorities.”

He stressed the need for “structural reforms to lift our growth potential. The sooner and stronger we act on this front, the more certain we can be of sustained growth and job creation.” But he added: “ We now have solid ground under our feet. We have started scoring again, but there is no reason to shout for victory. We must remain alert and vigilant.”

The question now is whether that growth can be maintained if countries like the UK, France, Spain and Greece are brought to a halt by striking union members. At least one other member of the European Commission, Laszlo Andor (who deals with employement and social affairs), has warned that “2011 may turn out to be the annus horriblis for social cohesion”.

Tyldesley miners outside the Miners Hall during the 1926 General StrikeEurope is bracing itself for a wave of mass industrial action. As austerity measures start to bite in several EU countries, including France, Greece and Spain, strikes are already planned. Now, those countries include the UK. At its annual congress in Manchester, the TUC agreed to co-ordinate protests here as well.

Some unions have already started preparing to direct their members on to a collision course with the government. Their leaders lined up to condemn the coalition for its spending cuts. They argue that those implemented have already hit public sector workers. They claim that over 200,000 jobs have already been lost or are under threat of redundancy.

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, attacked what he dubbed “the demolition Government”. He admitted that unions were facing “stark realities” following the general election, explaining that he meant “the Government’s determination to drive through massive spending cuts, which will not only devastate the services we rely on, but do untold damage to our economic prospects.”

Mr Barber went on to say that no-one could deny the depth of the recession, which he maintained was made in the boardrooms of the world’s banks. “Rightly, governments made sure that the banking system did not collapse. They took emergency action to ensure that recession did not turn into slump. They showed that we did not have to repeat the 1930s”

But in his speech, Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, insisted that it was a “lie” that the country could not afford decent public services. “If there’s money available to bail out banks and bonuses, if there’s money for war and Trident, there’s money for our public services,” he said. “If money’s tight, never mind a pay freeze for our members, how about a pay freeze for bankers?”

And it looks likely that the unions will have support from at least some leading members of Labour as well. In her keynote speech to the TUC, Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, backed union plans to mount a massive campaign of co-ordinated strike action.

“We will not be silenced by the right-wing characterising protest as undemocratic,” she said. “Trade unionists have the democratic rights to protest. We will not be deterred by suggestions that this is illegitimate – it is perfectly within the law. We will not be cowed by accusations that this is irresponsible and putting services at risk – the very opposite is true.”

Militant left-wingers, like Bob Crow of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, have called for civil disobedience to defend public services. He drew loud applause when he said: “We lie down or stand up and fight.”

If their plans come to fruition, this country is facing a bitter series of strikes. The protests and demonstrations could start as early as next month and last for years.

That could be the shape of things to come in several EU countries. Looking at the wider picture, Juan Somavia, director general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), told an international conference in Oslo it was “natural” for trade unions to protest and help “vent steam” in societies hurt by job losses. But they should also be involved in deals to keep the economy going.

The ILO’s latest statistics show just how damaging the recession has been. Up to 30 million people have become unemployed in the last three years, mainly in the developed world. If it hadn’t been for the stimulus packages introduced by many Governments, that figure could well have been 50 million or more.

It also warns that almost 450 million people will try to join the global workforce over the next decade. That’s double the number currently without a job. The ILO says that raises “the spectre of a lost generation”. Somavia wants governments to extend measures to foster the still fragile recovery and help support jobs.

In this, he’s supported, perhaps unexpectedly by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Its managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now supports government intervention. He insisted at the same conference that it was a “misleading caricature” to think that the fund cared only about the austerity cuts usually associated with its programmes.

Unemployment is “about far more than just a pay cheque”, he said, adding that schemes to extend unemployment benefits helped maintain demand and morale. They also gave short-term incentives to companies to retain more workers but at reduced hours and wages.

Reuters has reported that several European leaders have issued warnings about the risks of a “crisis of confidence”. In Spain for instance, the unemployment rate has hit 20%. It has led that country’s prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, to claim that the “worst crisis would be a crisis of pessimism, of a lack of confidence, of resignation. Europe must not fall into that.”

But the news agency reports that the secretary of state for work and pensions here, Iain Duncan Smith, insisted that “everyone is throwing out a lot of stimulus, but to lesser and lesser effect. We think it’s time to start pulling that back. If it goes on, we will start to squeeze out the private economy so it won’t have room to grow.”

The European Commission believes that some growth will come anyway. In its latest economic forecast, it suggests that the seven largest members of the EU, including the UK, are recovering at a faster pace than previously envisaged. Between them, these seven countries represent almost 80% of the European Union’s GDP.

Looking forward, Europe’s economists believe that GDP will grow by 0.5% in the third quarter of the year and by slightly less in the fourth. They argue that, for 2010 as a whole, growth should now reach 1.8%, a sizeable upward revision on six months ago. At the same time, they expect inflation to remain either steady or to fall slightly.

However, the commission’s report insists that “uncertainty at the current juncture is high, with non-negligible risks to the EU growth outlook. On the upside, the impetus from the export-led industrial rebound to private consumption could prove stronger than assumed in the baseline, as was the case in the first half of the year.”

The EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn told a news conference that “the European economy is clearly on a path of recovery, more strongly than forecast in the spring, and the rebound of domestic demand bodes well for the job market. However, uncertainties remain and safeguarding financial stability and continuing fiscal consolidation remain key priorities.”

He stressed the need for “structural reforms to lift our growth potential. The sooner and stronger we act on this front, the more certain we can be of sustained growth and job creation.” But he added: “ We now have solid ground under our feet. We have started scoring again, but there is no reason to shout for victory. We must remain alert and vigilant.”

The question now is whether that growth can be maintained if countries like the UK, France, Spain and Greece are brought to a halt by striking union members. At least one other member of the European Commission, Laszlo Andor (who deals with employement and social affairs), has warned that “2011 may turn out to be the annus horriblis for social cohesion”.

Ed Miliband. <em>Picture: Christian Guthier</em>

Ed Miliband. Picture: Christian Guthier

During the height of the 1999 Scottish election campaign, Donald Dewar was under pressure over persistent rumours that he wasn’t really running the campaign, the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was.

Dewar denied it and the story faded away until a group of hacks bumped into a young man coming out of Labour’s Glasgow headquarters one evening.

“Hi, I’m Ed Miliband, I work for Gordon Brown,” he said and that was that. From then on, the Labour campaign was characterised in the press as the “London-Labour” or “Brown-controlled” campaign.

The younger Miliband has clearly learned a great deal from that episode. Last weekend he came to Scotland and promised more autonomy for the Scottish Labour Party. London Labour should adopt a “hand’s off” approach to Scotland and let the Scottish party run its own affairs.

For the person who was ostensibly sent north to help run the 1999 campaign, that was some move.

It has also helped explain why the Ed Miliband bandwagon is gathering momentum in Scotland, particularly among the MSPs.

Some MSPs, like David Whitton, remember Ed Miliband from 1999 and were so impressed with his work, his analysis and his approach to politics from then that they are keen supporters of him to this day.

Others have seen how he has changed and adapted and taken on board the lessons he learned from his Scottish experience 11 years ago and is now clearly aware of the different dynamics in Scotland.

But there is another, far more fundamental, reason why Ed Miliband is edging ahead of his rivals in Scotland: he speaks the right language, the Labour language.

John Park, seen by many as a future leader of the Scottish Labour Party, is another Ed Miliband supporter and he believes Ed Miliband’s willingness to speak out strongly in more Old Labour terms is striking a chord with many in Scottish Labour.

Most Labour MSPs are still keeping their voting intentions to themselves but, of the dozen or so who are willing to declare their favoured candidate, seven support Ed Miliband with four backing his brother David and two supporting Andy Burnham. At the last count, there were none prepared to publicly support either Diane Abbott or Ed Balls.

Part of this strong support for Ed MIliband comes from his slightly “Old Labour” credentials. He is not defiantly Left-wing, like Ms Abbott, nor is he stridently union-backed, like Mr Balls. Ed Miliband is seen as a traditional, solid Labour politician of the sort Scots like.

There is more to it, too, though. The Blairite-Brownite axis still cuts through the Labour Party despite the departure of its eponymous leaders. As a result, David Miliband is seen by many as the Blairite candidate and Mr Balls as the Brownite candidate – something which is not helped by the Charlie Whelan/Unite backing Mr Balls is expected to receive.

Ed Miliband is not viewed through this filter at all so comes across as fresh and untarnished.

The one problem for Ed Miliband was his performance at the Scottish hustings event last Sunday. Even his supporters admit that he appeared hesitant, slightly uneasy and not as confident as his rivals. And with many Labour members in Scotland – and MSPs – still undecided, that cannot have helped.

There is, though, a tale his supporters are keen to relate which comes from the problematic Copenhagen climate change conference last year. It was 2am in the morning and the whole conference was on the verge of meltdown. All the NGOs and environmental groups were about to walk out. Somebody roused Ed Miliband from his bed. He spoke to the groups concerned and such was his passion, eloquence and commitment, they all stayed and got involved again. The conference may not have resulted in the sort-of landmark deal they wanted, but Ed Miliband’s supporters use that example to show that their man does have the leadership and debating skills necessary – even if he does not show them as readily as his brother.

He also has two other, important, factors in his favour. The first is that there is still a long way to go before the election itself.

One senior figure in Scottish Labour admitted that there was now a “caucus” on the Labour corridor at Holyrood actively pushing Ed Miliband’s chances. Even those who want Mr Burnham to succeed admit quietly they may now back Ed Miliband to prevent his brother getting the leadership.

This form of politics, building a caucus that works behind the scenes to persuade, cajole and generate support, is the sort of politics Labour members are used to but the one now growing in support of the younger Miliband is stronger, more influential and better organised than any other, particularly that for David Miliband – despite his high-profile visit to the parliament last week.

A long run-in to the leadership election will work in Ed Miliband’s favour because he supporters will use that time to build a body of backers inside the Scottish Parliament and beyond.

The second factor is the complexity of the Labour leadership contest itself. The use of single transferable vote to decide the outcome makes it more likely that the eventual winner will come from the middle of the pack.

The system has only been used twice before and only on one of these occasions was it used for the sort of widely spread field we have now, and that was the Deputy Leadership election in 2007.

Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson were in second and third place after the first round and Ms Harman never got higher than second place – until after the final allocation of the last set of transferable votes, when she emerged on top.

This means that huge importance will be placed on the ability of candidates to secure second choice support from Labour members. The Ed Miliband camp will hope to pick up second choice votes from both David Miliband and Mr Balls so that, even if their man comes third in the first round, he might be able to edge ahead because of the transfers.

There is also the Abbott factor to consider. David Miliband’s decision to give her the vital nomination allowing her to enter the contest is being widely seen as astute, because it was expected to rob his nearest rivals of vital left-wing support.

But David Miliband could end up suffering too. There may be many Labour Party members out there – particularly women, members of ethnic minorities and members who still harbour a desire for radicalism – who would have backed David Miliband as their second choice but who will now give their second-choice vote to Ms Abbott.

The only certainty at this stage is that this leadership election will come down to second and third preferences. The winning candidate will need enough first-choice votes to get a solid start then more second and third choices than their rivals.

To do that, the winning candidate has to be able to secure widespread support across the party and not alienate anybody. If you listen to Ed Miliband’s supporters at Holyrood, they certainly believe their man has both of these qualities. It will be a fascinating race.

Harriet Harman. <em>Picture: Steve Punter</em>

Harriet Harman. Picture: Steve Punter

Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, is expected to return to her post of deputy leader once the leadership contest is over – to prevent an all-male leadership team.

The Labour leadership contest had appeared to be coming down to a battle between the two leadership slates: the two Eds (Ed Balls as leader and Ed Miliband as deputy) against David Miliband as leader and John Crudas as deputy.

Given that either of these options would result in an all-male leadership team, Ms Harman has apparently told allies she would stay on as deputy leader to make sure there was a woman at the top of the party.

That would certainly be good for equality but not so good for the leadership teams which are tentatively being put together at the moment.

One senior Scottish Labour source told The Caledonian Mercury that David Miliband was emerging as the party’s favourite.

“We need someone at the top who has experience of one of the three great offices of state, just in case there is an early election. We need someone with experience and David Miliband is that man,” the source said.

According to the latest odds, David Miliband is the clear favourite to replace Gordon Brown as Labour leader.

David Miliband is now 1/3 to become leader, followed by his brother Ed Miliband who is 6/1, with Ed Balls on 9/1, Andy Burnham at 12/1, John Crudas 16/1 and Alistair Darling out at 20/1.

David Miliband announced his candidacy for the Labour leadership today, saying that Labour had to become the champion of the centre-left in Britain now that the Lib Dems had joined the Tories.

“I will stand as a candidate. I do so with humility in the face of the responsibility the post brings and passion for the causes and values that led me to join our party,” he said.

Harriet Harman. <em>Picture: Steve Punter</em>

Harriet Harman. Picture: Steve Punter

Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, is expected to return to her post of deputy leader once the leadership contest is over – to prevent an all-male leadership team.

The Labour leadership contest had appeared to be coming down to a battle between the two leadership slates: the two Eds (Ed Balls as leader and Ed Miliband as deputy) against David Miliband as leader and John Crudas as deputy.

Given that either of these options would result in an all-male leadership team, Ms Harman has apparently told allies she would stay on as deputy leader to make sure there was a woman at the top of the party.

That would certainly be good for equality but not so good for the leadership teams which are tentatively being put together at the moment.

One senior Scottish Labour source told The Caledonian Mercury that David Miliband was emerging as the party’s favourite.

“We need someone at the top who has experience of one of the three great offices of state, just in case there is an early election. We need someone with experience and David Miliband is that man,” the source said.

According to the latest odds, David Miliband is the clear favourite to replace Gordon Brown as Labour leader.

David Miliband is now 1/3 to become leader, followed by his brother Ed Miliband who is 6/1, with Ed Balls on 9/1, Andy Burnham at 12/1, John Crudas 16/1 and Alistair Darling out at 20/1.

David Miliband announced his candidacy for the Labour leadership today, saying that Labour had to become the champion of the centre-left in Britain now that the Lib Dems had joined the Tories.

“I will stand as a candidate. I do so with humility in the face of the responsibility the post brings and passion for the causes and values that led me to join our party,” he said.