Saturday, 7 May 2011

Out and about with half-hangit Iain

Had he been alert to bad omens, Iain Gray might have noticed as he arrived in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket yesterday that things were looking bleak.

This was to be the Scottish Labour leader’s final walkabout in the capital and he had chosen to begin it, more or less, by the Last Drop Tavern, a bar sardonically named in honour of those hanged on Edinburgh’s gibbet. And Mr Gray was standing a matter of yards from the former site of the scaffold itself.

Perhaps, at the end of a spectacularly disastrous campaign, it was fitting that he should turn up at a giant symbol of impending doom. The enemies of the People’s Party have hardly had to break into a sweat to rubbish Labour’s efforts to launch a credible assault on power.

What began weeks ago with Mr Gray’s unedifying retreat into a sandwich shop near Glasgow Central has flowered into endless toe-curling embarrassments for the Labour leader. Add the barbs thrown into the policy debate, by senior policemen, prison governers and doctors and his fate seemed sealed long before this latest press call.

Such disasters have apparently gone unnoticed in Scottish Labour’s HQ. Instead, to support their leader for this final day on the stump, his press office had issued a breakdown of his “short campaign”. In the past 43 days, we are told, Mr Gray has met more than one million people and shaken (according to statistics supplied by the relevant commissar) 8,600 hands. To sustain himself through this difficult ordeal, he has consumed 18kg of fruit, and eaten 86 sandwiches, including one from Subway (sources insist this was later regurgitated).

He ate no fruit in the Grassmarket, nor was any thrown at him. But like many a condemned man brought kicking and screaming to this spot Mr Gray revealed he had not slept the previous night. Not, apparently, because he felt any sense of doom, but because he was in the midst of a final 40-hour push for votes, criss-crossing Scotland and meeting the night workers who keep the country’s life blood pumping while the rest sleep soundly.

“That is what we are doing at the end of the campaign as we did at the beginning,” he said. “Through the night I visited a bakery, a couple of distribution centres, a lot of people working doing jobs that matter to everyone else. I think it is right to acknowledge them.”

It’s also probably helpful to hold these daft publicity calls under cover of darkness, because Mr Gray walked off, past Maggie Dickson’s bar (named after “Half-Hangit Maggie”, who survived the gallows) and through gaggles of bemused tourists, with scarcely a voter in sight.

Then, fatefully, he turned briskly left, walking past the largest joke shop in Edinburgh, whose signboard delivered a message of its own: “A ha ha ha”. The cameras clicked around the Labour leader, to record one last humiliation.

Short of leading his followers up to Hooters strip joint, his press call could hardly have been worse.

Finally, he was asked the question: did he have any regrets about this terrible campaign?

“You carry out post mortems after you get the result,” Mr Gray said.

But you just walked past a joke shop, in full view of the cameras. How does that happen? “Post mortems come afterwards, OK?”

All this talk of post mortems. Perhaps, after all, this walkabout by half-hangit Iain had been planned.

* Photo by James Glossop

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