I was at Scottish Labour's Spring conference on Saturday. More a pre-election rally than a real conference, but none the less an important opportunity to fire up the troops for the coming campaign.
Keynote speeches from Ed Miliband and Iain Grey. Ed Miliband in the morning putting the election in a UK context, stressing the importance of a Labour Government in Scotland as a key element of resisting the Tories and their damaging policies.
Iain Grey's speech was well crafted and set out the main themes of the election campaign. He took his audience back to the 80's when the Tories were last in power. Reminding everyone of the lasting damage to Scotland's communities. He pledged his government to do all they can to minimise the damage Thatcher's children will try to do to Scotland today. There may not be much cash, but devolution means that we can resist the dismantling of the NHS, schools and councils that the Tories and the Lib-Dems are planning in England. The focus will be on jobs and the economy, particularly young people, so we don't write off another generation as Thatcher did. He even used the 'S' word twice!
When you take this speech with Alex Salmond's speech to the SNP conference, the main parties in Scotland clearly intend to focus on the Tories. You might think this is fairly strange given their limited electoral strength in Scotland. However, this campaign is looking like a pitch on who is best placed to defend Scotland against the Tories at UK level.
At lunchtime I attended the Labour Yes launch for the AV referendum. UNISON hasn't taken a position on this, rightly recognising that we can't afford to be distracted from our primary campaign against cuts in public services. A lot of Labour activists are torn between the desire to deprive Nick Clegg of the main reason for selling out to the Tories, and their instinctive recognition that AV is probably a better system than First Past The Post. The best argument I heard in favour was that AV forces parties to campaign more positively, because attack politics makes it less likely to attract second preferences. This could lead to a less tribal approach to politics, something I personally would welcome.