It is encouraging to learn that a Labour Government in Edinburgh will be about "education, education, education". Donald Dewar's plans announced last week on the anniversary of the devolution referendum were a bit early as an election manifesto. They were largely a repetition of the programme laid down by the Scottish Office, especially in the aftermath of the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review. The daily press appeared not to notice that the spending promises had already been made, but political restatement of the known is not just an expression of the spin doctors' wiles. It is an inevitable result of how the country will be governed under the Scotland Act.
The election manifesto of a party in power is usually an attempt to signal past achievements and set out a new stall. But Labour goes into next May's election on the basis that spending has been committed through the comprehensive review and no matter how valuable and enticing the programme appears in the manifesto, it will represent a continuation in the new legislature of what was promulgated in another place. Therefore Mr Dewar mainly re-emphasised where money already allocated would go. For example, the 60 new "full-service" schools will be funded from the total investment announced in July.
All parties contesting the election have to recognise that the spending limits of the new parliament have been laid down because of the terms of the Scotland Act and the fact that the Westminster Government has made its funding decisions for the immediate future. That is why the Scottish National Party will offer two manifestos, one for the real world and another for the blissful state of independence. Whether "education, education, education" turns out to be more substantial than a mantra will continue to be determined largely in London.