Here at Better Nation, we are marvelling at the wisdom of the two parties fighting it out for First Minister in May adopting a key plank of our mission statement as their focus for next year. You can picture the ring announcer already…

“In the red corner for this heavyweight contest we have the challenger, known to some as the Grey Man of Scottish politics, the LOLITSP himself… Iain Gray.

And in the yellow corner representing the SNP, originating from Linlithgow but now hailing from the North-East, known for his love of horses and curries, Scotland’s First Minister… Alex Salmond.”

In terms of sloganising the campaign, both camps have hit the ground running. Labour have set their stall out for change and have gone with the tagline “Scotland Deserves Better” (which, if you hadn’t already noticed, has already been delivered in the shape of this blog!).

Last time around, the SNP benefited from the simplicity of their “It’s Time” slogan. Looking to stay in office for a second term,  this time they have gone with “better” in their slogan of “Be Part of Better“. Clearly, not noticing that “Be” is already part of “Better” - indeed, the first 2 letters of it. But that’s a minor point.

So, essentially the public have a choice – is it a case of better the devil they know? Or would they be better off looking to Labour to better the SNP in the election? Are we to listen to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky and “believe in better“? Have we returned to 1997 where things could only get better? Can’t they work better together?

Or is the focus of the post better best forgotten?

Okay, I’ll let it go.  But there is a point to be made here. Will the public focus be more on the leaders, the campaigns and the image of the parties involved – or is there any danger that respective policies will be examined and issues will actually play a part in this campaign?

I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle. As James has pointed out previously, we’ll have two parties fighting over the same policies as previously. We’ll have parties offering the status quo or a minor change to the status quo (with apologies to the Nats who believe the SNP can or will deliver independence post-May 2011, which of course would be a major change to the status quo) in terms of policy position.

Think about it. We’re arguing over sustaining or ending a freeze on Council Tax (minor change) not whether the system is fair and should be changed anyway (major change). We’re arguing about how the cuts should be distributed (no change to system) instead of asking how to avoid some of them – perhaps by using the tax power we have (reasonably large change given its never been used). Incidentally, I’m not 100% sold on it (and far be it for me to say anything about tax given, as a student, I don’t actually pay income tax) but I’m happy to see one of the parties talking about it.

Elections should be about ideas, about ideology and issues. Instead, with the rise of the TV debate and instant public comment via blogs and Twitter, the cult of personality and image is now the main focus of elections. One faux pas, one minor slip, one moment of not being entirely professional, and the election is gone. So it is absolutely no wonder that parties have shifted their focus from original policy making and debating the issues inside out to a position whereby slick campaigns and professionalism are prized above all else.

With that in mind, its no real surprise that the two parties challenging to provide Scotland’s First Minister have both gone for the same message in their campaigns in attempt to better the other (okay, I used that one already). I guess there are only so many ways you can make it sound like you promising something which is an improvement on what your opponent can.

I do think though, that whatever the rhetoric, the soundbites and catchphrases, Scotland would be better served by having a real debate about the issues. Do that, and we may well see a Scotland which befits the intentions of our political rhetoric. Do it not, and focus solely on beating your opponent in a professional campaign without engaging with the issues and all our nation will be is older, no wiser… and perhaps just a little bit bitter.