MEDIA: SNP will fail if it focuses solely on the negative

Most English readers will probably be unaware that the Scottish parliamentary election campaign has been under way for more than three weeks.

Despite the war coverage, which has been just as comprehensive in Scotland as in the rest of the UK, the election has been well reported there.

I went to the media launch of the SNP manifesto in Glasgow, and was astonished by how much their PR had improved since the last election, when they were a complete shambles. Four years ago they seemed to come up with most of their campaign ideas themselves. This time, they have clearly left it to the professionals.

Even their leader, John Swinney, who seems to have had a charisma by-pass, managed to get his message across. Apparently he's been in intensive public speaking training. The SNP have also followed the brief experiment that New Labour had with a colour change, and have opted for purple.

When Peter Mandelson came up with the colour change idea in 1997, it was swiftly dropped when it was realised that red and yellow was just as soothing to the eye. The SNP colours though, are black and bright yellow, and this, so the colour psychologists tell us, frightens people - it looks too much like a wasp. Colour coordination was therefore the order of the day at the manifesto launch, with all the MSPs wearing something purple.

The SNP hit the ground running with a series of hard-hitting political posters and the most negative election broadcast since the last one. This PPB showed an old man dying as a result of Labour's failure to end NHS waiting lists, and inevitably caused a major row, which is exactly what the SNP wanted. The Scottish Labour Party, not to be outdone on the negative front, repeated their successful negative attack on the costs of independence, or 'divorce' as they put it. It was the Prime Minister himself, breaking off from his war campaign to visit Scotland for a few hours, who launched the attack over independence. Apart from this, the Labour campaign has been abysmal.

Jack McConnell, the Labour leader in Scotland, hates Gordon Brown. So, despite the fact that the Chancellor and his team did so well running the campaign four years ago, they have all been frozen out. This has led to a chaotic campaign that has even suggested an SNP referendum on independence - if they won the election - would be illegal. Given that Stagecoach boss Brian Souter managed to hold a referendum on the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland, Labour trying to claim that you couldn't have one on independence without the 'permission' of the London parliament has not gone down too well with Scottish voters.

We all know, though, that slick and professional campaigns don't necessarily win elections. It is easily forgotten that the election campaign run by Mandelson in 1992 may have been one of the best, but Labour lost. The SNP will lose, too. They seem to believe that negative campaigns work on their own - they don't.

Virtually every poster the SNP has produced has been a direct attack on Labour. Some of them have been very personal attacks on McConnell.

Their strategists tell me that being negative worked for Labour last time round, but they forget that within all the attacks on the SNP there was always a positive message. Last week, immediately following Tony Blair's negative attack on the SNP, Brown was up with a positive message on the economy. Negative campaigns only work if the voters are given positive policies as well. Labour knows that, which is why McConnell will be leading the next Scottish Executive.

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