Last week, Scottish Labour candidate Cara Hilton won the Dunfermline by-election in convincing fashion, overturning the SNP’s razor-thin majority and delivering this traditionally Labour seat back to the party.
The result no doubt buoys leader Johann Lamont as she continues to position her party ahead of next year’s independence referendum and she will be able to point towards this victory as evidence of Labour reconnecting with Scottish voters.
However, it emerged in the run-up to the by-election that the party produced a leaflet pledging to local voters to keep the very universal policies – free prescriptions, bus passes and personal care among them – which the Labour leader herself argued needed to be desperately re-examined, if not ended altogether, in a highly publicised speech last September.
Adding to the confusion, Scotland on Sunday yesterday published an article from Professor Arthur Midwinter, the finance expert appointed by Labour to examine the impact of the SNP government’s public spending priorities, where he called for reduced spending on universal ‘free’ benefits and divert these savings instead to programmes designed to alleviate poverty.
The SNP has been roundly accused of saying and promising anything in their pursuit of an independent Scotland. On this evidence, Labour needs to ask itself if it is following their bitter rivals down the same path before their messaging on the vital issue on how best to deliver Scotland’s public services becomes hopelessly muddled.