One of the enduring mysteries from the Glasgow East by-election of summer 2008 is quite why the media ever labelled Margaret Curran the most impressive candidate. Maybe it's because she reminds me of one too many tyrannical west-central-Scotland schoolteachers, but I've certainly never rated her myself, to put it mildly. The media narrative at the time was that the SNP had beaten Labour in spite of the respective merits of the two parties' candidates, not because of them. But for my money that particular characterisation will be closer to the mark if Labour regains the seat at the general election.
If you doubt the truth of this, take a look at the bizarre press release that Labour have sent out - featuring a lengthy quote from Curran - shamelessly vilifying Jeff Breslin as if he was a member of the SNP cabinet. It's not the morality of this I would question, so much as the general stupidity. As I pointed out only a few days ago, Jeff is an extraordinarily decent, fair-minded, free-thinking, honest, and above all ecumenical SNP blogger. The one thing he categorically isn't is a propagandist, which, let's be honest, is a rare quality indeed in any blog that favours one party. How many SNP bloggers are there out there who would go out of their way to say when they think the SNP are underperforming, or that they agree with Labour more than the SNP over the topical issue of the day, or - and this is the biggie - that they're not even sure about the wisdom of independence itself?
Can Labour not see the golden opportunities they've just thrown away here? Instead of sending out childish press releases smearing Jeff, they could have lovebombed him, issuing press releases praising the "leading SNP blogger" for his latest post welcoming a particular Labour policy. They could have delightedly quoted Jeff's latest positive write-up for a Labour politician. They could have pointed out that even the leading SNP blogger can, like Labour, see the potential advantages of maintaining the union with England. But now they'll never be able to do any of those things with credibility, now that they've made him just another part of 'the enemy'.
Even worse for Labour, anyone who is remotely interested in the muck they're desperately trying to rake up (and that won't be many) will simply pop along to Jeff's blog to make up their own mind. What do you think will be the outcome of a quick compare and contrast session? Would the average member of the public be more impressed by Jeff's carefully considered thoughts of evident personal conviction, or by Labour's hysterically-worded propaganda piece?
It's as if Margaret Curran and Labour simply saw words they could twist to their advantage, saw those words were tenuously linked to the letters 'S', 'N' and 'P', and just automatically followed the standard pre-programmed course of action. No thought at all - just politics by numbers.