Saturday 13 September 2008

Gray's Scottish challenge

Congratulations to Iain Gray, elected as leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

It quite an open and unpredictable contest, even foxing the bookies for whom Andy Kerr began as the clear favourite while Cathy Jamieson was most likely to win according to Ladbrokes this morning.

BBC Scotland editor Brian Taylor suggests that Gray's strong performances at the hustings had a significant impact, while Hamish McDonnell analyses the dilemma of 'How do you solve a problem like Alex Salmond?' in today's Scotsman.

Gray is Scottish Labour's fifth leader in nine years.

His call on the party to "close the manifesto" of 2007 and move forward is the right immediate message. The Scottish party has still to adapt to becoming an opposition party at Holyrood (complicated by Labour remaining in power in Westminster).

For example, on the issue of prescription charges, Labour has made a rather wonkish policy and funding critique of the SNP's proposals. I am not convinced by this - and have argued for Labour to phase out charges in a sustainable way in England and Wales. (The Kings Fund put forward a comprehensive and convincing rebuttal of each of the common counter-arguments in its submission to the health select committee).

But there is a political point too. Oppositions don't need to go around opposing popular policies.

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