Blog: out lefting the SNP theme of Scottish Labour party conference

Peter MacMahon is ITV Border's Political Editor in Scotland Photo: ITV Tyne Tees

In my interview with him for ITV Border’s Lookaround on Friday I asked Ed Miliband if Labour’s pitch to the electorate ahead of the independence referendum was that they were more left wing than Alex Salmond and the SNP.

His reply was that he, and Labour, could deliver what he called social justice better than Mr Salmond. That’s pretty much a ‘yes’ then.

Labour leader Ed Miliband talking to Peter MacMahon Credit: ITV

And out lefting – if lefting is even a word - the SNP has definitely been the theme of this year’s Scottish Labour party conference in Perth which continues until Sunday.

As part of that strategy on Friday the party published a glossy document Together We Can which was deliberately printed with a bright red cover.

Click here to read it:

Labour’s critics will no doubt say it is high on aspiration and low on details but it definitely has a more leftish feel to it than document from those now long gone ‘New Labour’ days.

Ed Miliband greets Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont at the Scottish Labour Party conference in Perth Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images

And today (Saturday) the party’s Scottish leader, Johann Lamont, will use her keynote speech to describe the SNP’s economic policies as “Osborne max”.

She will add for good measure that the First Minister has failed to produce any policies which are redistributive in seven years in office.

Ms Lamont will ram home the message by claiming that this is “a betrayal of social justice”. Ouch.

Why Labour is doing this? There is both principle and tactics here.

Ms Lamont and to some extent Mr Miliband are more to the Left politically than some of their immediate predecessors.

Ed Miliband is greeted by a Yes Independence supporter as he arrives at the Scottish Labour Party conference in Perth Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images

But they also know from polling that it is Labour voters in the poorer parts of Scotland who are more likely to vote ‘Yes’ in the independence referendum in September.

So Labour want to appeal to them, to show their socialist credentials even if the ‘S’ word is still not mentioned very often.

Never slow to respond to attacks by Labour, the SNP is challenging Ms Lamont to give details of the kinds of policies she would pursue.

The Nationalists point to a speech she made in which she criticised what she called “something for nothing” policies and said Labour would look at whether policies like, for example, free prescriptions for all were a good use of taxpayers money.

In the SNP’s terms the body Ms Lamont set up to look at these issues is a “cuts commission” which they say is likely to recommend, well, cuts to popular – some say populist – policies like those free prescriptions.

So that’s the battle ground which has now been laid out by Labour and on which the SNP is happy to engage.

We have seen the first skirmishes this weekend. The closer we get to the referendum the more intense this political fight on the Left between Labour and the SNP will become.