The Scottish Labour leader had such a bad week this week that, if this was a snap election campaign with a furious, three-week campaign, he would already be out of it.
The week started for Mr Gray with reports of ructions in the Labour camp over his leadership and murmurings of discontent over his performance in last week’s leaders’ debate. It ended in almost farcical fashion, as Mr Gray was barricaded by his minders into a sandwich shop in Glasgow’s Central Station in an effort to keep anti-cuts protesters at bay.
In between those two low points came the Labour manifesto launch. It wasn’t the worst Labour manifesto launch in living memory. No, there have actually been ones that were worse (the launches in both 2005 and 2007 spring unerringly to mind), but it was hardly a triumph.
First there was the fire alarm that forced everybody – media, spinners and politicians – out into the rain. Then there was the gaffe over the line: “Scottish Labour is committed to scrapping failed Scottish Labour.” That generated hoots of derision from the press and necessitated a hasty rewrite before the online edition appeared.
But that wasn’t all. The Tories were quick to pounce on the appearance of a patient in chapter seven of the Labour manifesto who, they claimed, was actually railing against cuts imposed by Labour-run Glasgow council, not the Tory-led Westminster government.
Labour’s problems were not just confined to the frivolous edges, though. None of the senior figures appeared able to adequately explain just how the party’s new “go-to-jail-for-carrying-a-knife” policy would work or be paid for, given the thousands of extra prison places this would require.
If a manifesto falls or dies by the initial reception it receives, then Labour’s was interred pretty quickly. Even left-leaning commentators like Joyce MacMillan in the Scotsman questioned the credibility of relying on “efficiency savings” to generate enough money to create 250,000 jobs.
Labour leaders had decided to revert to a traditional, Old Labour approach, based on public sector spending. It was designed to appeal to the party’s core support, but whether it attracts those disillusioned Liberal Democrat voters who may decide this contest remains to be seen.
The SNP manifesto launch isn’t until next week and the Nationalists will be hoping to do better than Labour did this week. On one issue, though, the SNP has been caught out this week: local income tax.
It emerged last week that Alex Salmond has gone to Scotland’s highest civil court on two occasions to prevent publication of a document giving the financial assessment of the cost of his plans for a local income tax.
That document still has not appeared and will not do so until after the election, despite repeated opposition demands for the Scottish government to publish it. But today the Daily Telegraph published another, later, document which estimates a shortfall of almost £800 million between what the council tax would raise and the SNP’s suggested replacement.
This latest estimate, written by Dr Andrew Goudie, the first minister’s senior economic adviser, appears to cast serious doubt on the credibility of a local income tax – particularly at a time of public sector funding squeezes and pressure on family budgets.
This is the first real hit that the opposition parties have managed to score off the SNP and it is an important one because it concerns one of the party’s central policies: scrapping the council tax and replacing it with a local income tax.
The affair will drag on in the background throughout the campaign and, to the SNP’s dismay, it will generate the impression of secrecy, poor policy making and vulnerability, at least in this key policy area.
For the Tories, the week was reasonably solid. Their manifesto launch went off without a hitch – almost. Hidden away in the manifesto was a pledge to set targets for obesity, not for cutting obesity, which tended to suggest the Conservatives want us all to be fat.
However, in the scale of manifesto launch gaffes, it fell a considerable way short of the impressive standard set by Labour.
As for the Liberal Democrats, like Labour, this week could also have been much better. First, Tavish Scott, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, had to cope with the news that one of his former colleagues, former Highland MSP John Farquhar Munro, was backing Mr Salmond as the best first minister.
He then had to deal with a slight hiccup in his own manifesto. Someone, drawing up the manifesto, didn’t think about the effect of acronyms and actually came up with a policy for a Crime Reduction Action Plan…
Senior Lib Dems admitted in private that they are now just looking to hold on to what they have got, aware that their vote is crumbling across the country.
This could help the Greens, it could also help the Socialists, but it is likely that the winner of this election will be whichever of the SNP and Labour can do best at winning over these disillusioned Liberals.
Mr Gray did not get off to the best start in trying to do so – but, for him at least (if not for anybody else in Scotland) at least there are another four weeks of this campaign still to run and that gives him the time to turn things around – if he can.