Labour treads 'road back to power'

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Iain Gray
Image caption,
Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray will address his party's annual conference in Oban

In his remarks in the agenda for the 2010 Scottish Labour conference, Iain Gray opens with a typically simple and straightforward statement:

"We must win the Scottish Parliament elections next May."

With the party's defeat at Westminster and at Holyrood in 2007, Labour found itself out of power north and south of the border.

But the UK election wasn't a total disaster in Scotland, where Labour managed to hold on to all its seats, plus regain the ones it lost in by-elections during the previous parliament.

It is this achievement which seems to have kept the party going, rather than being struck down by election fatigue.

And, with the Holyrood election just a few months away, the party is going to have to stop being the official opposition in Scotland and start pushing the manifesto on which it wants to become the next government of Scotland.

Policy insights

So what are the policies? Well, some have wondered whether Labour's only policy is putting up tax (through its position on opposing a council tax freeze that is "not fully funded") but Mr Gray is planning to give a few insights at the party's conference, in Oban.

Key manifesto commitments include the "living wage" of £7.15 for all, although this can only be imposed by government in the public sector, and the protection of "frontline services".

These themes are pretty much the same as the SNP's, although Labour will be vigorously opposing the Nationalists' plans for a referendum on Scottish independence.

Image caption,
Labour's new UK leader Ed Miliband has thrown his support behind Iain Gray

Mr Gray argues the SNP government has let Scots down by arguing for an independence referendum bill which won't now be introduced in this parliament, while thousands of public and private sector workers have lost their jobs.

The leader will also attack the double whammy of what he calls the "Salmond slump" and the "Tory/Lib Dem attack on public services" - although that's a tough message to sell when his opponents - currently forming the Scottish and UK governments - blame Labour's economic legacy for having to make the most brutal spending cuts in decades.

And while the New Labour Scottish influence may now have gone with the departure of the likes of Gordon Brown from frontline politics, the party's new UK leader, Ed Miliband, has thrown his support behind Iain Gray.

In an attempt to counter the perception of Mr Gray's low public profile compared to the likes of Alex Salmond, Mr Miliband has told voters that, in these tough times, "Scotland needs a statesman, not a showman".

Despite Labour's Scottish turnout at the UK election, Mr Gray still knows he has a lot of tough work ahead if he is to become first minister of Scotland in 2011 - Holyrood elections are not Westminster elections, and some of the thinking behind what happened points towards a perceived desire to stop the Tories governing Britain.

The eyes of the whole Labour movement are now on Iain Gray.

As Ed Miliband puts it: "The road back for Labour runs through Scotland this May."

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