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says GEORGE KEREVAN, as he  looks at Labour’s chances of winning the 2015 General Election.

THE indyref may be over (for a generation?) but politics knows no respite; onwards to the 2015 UK General Election. The polling booths open at 7am on Thursday 7 May. The actual election campaign began one second after the Scottish referendum result was declared last Friday morning. 

Faux cynicism aside, most readers of Scot-Buzz are avid political geeks.  So here is my first take on horses and riders…

The latest YouGov poll on voting intentions for the General Election – taken in the days BEFORE the indyref - gives labour 36 per cent, Tories 31, Ukip 16, Lib Dems 7, Greens a strong 5, and the SNP/Welsh Nats with a combined 4 per cent. NB: this poll seems to miss out Northern Ireland.

On a uniform swing, that would give Ed Miliband an overall majority of only 16.  But that ignores regional variations and local quirks, which will alter the result. Above all, the aftermath of the referendum looks fair to create constitutional and internal party mayhem, which could radically impact on the General Election outcome. In particular, the Home Rule package seemingly offered to the Scots to keep them in the Union will weigh heavily on the outcome.

As front runner, Labour is desperate to get politics “back to normal”. Hence the raft of populist announcements made at the party’s annual conference over the weekend.

Top of the bill was a proposal to bump up the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020.  This fits in well with Labour’s other ‘anti-business’ window dressing, particularly the proposed freeze on energy bills.

Of course, doing an anti-capitalist jig is an effective way of getting elected. In France, Francois Hollande snatched the presidency from Nicolas Sarkozy by making the most absurd promises to raise business taxes and create jobs. Of course, Hollande has been forced by the markets to do a 180 degree turn and fire his equivalent of Tony Benn.

But everyone knows this is the game – the wily Francois Mitterrand did exactly the same.  Only the poor French voters get duped.

However, neither Ed Miliband nor Ed Balls are convincing populists or genuine left-wingers. They haven’t the spunk to go as far as Hollande in tweaking the tail of the markets in order to drum up votes. Proof: Miliband had no sooner announced the rise in the minimum wage that prospective chancellor Balls was telling the Labour faithful in Manchester that he intended to reduce public expenditure on child benefit in real terms.

In other words, for every feint to the left, Labour makes a compensating feint to the right. Yes, Balls wants to freeze household utility bills for a year, but he had Labour MPs troop into the lobbies to vote for the Tory cap on overall welfare spending.

Is anyone any longer fooled by this?  Certainly, business is getting very confused. Ed Miliband has made a great song and dance about supporting small businesses.  Remember when he said that small firms must “lie at the heart of policy-making”?

In Scotland, the outcome of the referendum clearly shows that voters no longer respond to Labour’s doublespeak. Despite Gordon Brown’s fundamentalist rhetoric about Keir Hardie and Home Rule, every parliamentary constituency in Glasgow voted Yes to leaving the Union (and thereby threatening to depriving Ed Miliband of a Westminster majority).

Three of the four local authority areas which voted Yes were Labour administrations. No wonder that Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran wants to “reconnect” with Labour voters in Scotland.

In fact, Labour in Scotland were the biggest losers on Thursday night as the party’ traditional base decided it could be rid of Tory governments once and for all if Scotland had self-determination.  If you don’t have the prospect of a Tory government, you don’t need Labour to protect you from one.  Q.E.D

That’s not to say that a rise in the minimum wage to £8 won’t be attractive to low paid voters in urban marginal constituencies, even if it won’t actually arrive for five years. It is a good stick to hit the Tories with. On the other hand, low paid voters know how to count pennies. They will be forking out more in income tax while getting smaller benefit payments.

And unless the Treasury uses the extra revenue that accrues from this to compensate local authorities for the ensuing higher wage bill - which I doubt – we will see higher council tax bills and reduced town hall staffing. And that’s on top of the higher costs for small businesses.

Of course, Ed Balls could use the Treasury gains from a higher minimum wage to offset business costs, making the reform ‘revenue neutral’.  He could even focus tax cuts on reducing employer national insurance contributions for SMEs. But is that his intention?  Someone should ask him. Though you might not get a straight answer, even if you ask the question 13 times.

The political reality is that Miliband and Balls are hoping to repeat the ‘bounce’ they got in the opinion polls last year when they came up with the energy bill freeze. Labour went from level-pegging with the Tories to an 11-point lead in 10 days.  That won’t happen this time.

The reason? Those ill-conceived promises made to Scottish voters in the dying days of the independence referendum – added to by Gordon Brown hijacking the proposals and presenting them as Home Rule.

Home Rule, as conceived by Scotland’s socialist fathers and mothers of yore, means far more than a dribble of new devolved powers to Holyrood. Home Rule means exactly what it says on Gordon Brown’s tin: domestic control over taxation, spending, and welfare policy. And it means the de facto federalisation of the UK.

Of course, as everyone is waking up to, Home Rule for Scotland so unbalances the UK politically and economically that it will require Home Rule for England to right the constitutional ship. That is what David Cameron has grasped. Better still from his point of view, championing “English votes for English laws” gives him a much-needed stick with which to fend off Ukip while snookering Labour. Once you start down that road, complete Home Rule for England must follow – and, naturally, for Wales and Northern Ireland.

Labour cannot win back enough support in Scotland at the 2015 General Election without delivering Brown’s vision of Home Rule – as he will remind them every step of the way, in order to protect his newly-recovered reputation and popularity. If Miliband tries to step back, the left-wing Yes activists who nearly took Glasgow out of the Union will be back campaigning against Labour in the housing schemes.

Yet if Miliband and Co. try to block English Home Rule, or resist calls for an end to Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster voting on English-only issues, the Labour Party will find itself accused – rightly – of putting naked self-interest before democracy.  Labour in England could become as toxic a brand as the Tories in Scotland.

Who is going to be the first English Labour (or Tory) politician to wish that Gordon Brown had kept his trap shut and let the Scots go their own way?