Never mind the policies, feel the gloss

The four main political parties have all presented their manifestos. Could their designs turn out, for the first time perhaps, to be a guide to what they might do in government? The Tories are "Fighting for Scotland", and their promises are wrapped in a glossy cover with lots of glossy colour images inside.

Labour, that is Scottish Labour as opposed to New Labour, wants change "because Scotland deserves better". A serious pose by leader Tony Blair on the cover contrasts with the inner image of lots of happy, smiling characters going about their businesses, presumably after five years of Labour rule. It, too, is glossy on the front and full of rich colour on the inside pages.

There is, we assume, no significance in the Liberal Democrats' choice of a yellow cover with stark black-and-white pictures within. The SNP boasts a colourful front but a mundane centre with nobody there except 22 party luminaries.

Education, of course, has top billing but in different ways. The Lib Dems call it, very effectively, "education". The SNP place "restoring educational excellence" in a section headed "Serving a Better Scotland". Labour aims to "make education our number one priority" and that has a slot all to itself. You have to search hard for education under the Tory plans which place it under "The Individual, Family and Community".

Other references are even harder to find. The SNP has cast its backing for the University of the Highlands and Islands into the telecommunications section. More bizarre still is the total absence of any UHI reference in the Tory document, despite Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth's enthusiastic support.

There was a momentary frisson when Forsyth launched the Tory manifesto last week. "We have very exciting proposals for young people," he announced.

This turned out to be a reference to pensions reform.

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