27 July 2006

End of Term Report Card

Well, folks, the Summer is upon us, and politicians across the nation are, I'm sure, already swanning off to their lovely holiday destinations, many of which will no doubt be marginal constituencies! That being the case, now seems as good a time as any to assess the parties' performances over the year.


This has been a fiasco-ridden year for Labour. In terms of actual results, they started with by fending off a strong SNP challenge in Livingston and preventing what should have been an SNP win by default in Glasgow Cathcart. But since then the wheels have come off the wagon: a rebuff which saw the Party's policy of transferring Council housing stock to Housing Associations rebuffed in Edinburgh; a By-Election humiliation in Dunfermline and West Fife; a collapse in the already small Labour vote in Moray, and clashes with Westminster over immigration (won by Westminster) and nuclear power (if Elaine Murray is to be believed then Scottish Labour will fall into line with the pro-nuclear approach taken by Blair, but the election could put paid to that). Then there are the embarrassments: Mike Watson's conviction, Gordon Jackson, and Jack McConnell trying (and failing) to out-Nationalist the SNP, and this is before we factor in the perpetual crisis now engulfing the Westminster government. On that performance, you can see why their opinion poll lead has been wiped out. Mark: 2/5


A slow start, but the SNP seem to have found their groove: promises of wins in Livingston and Cathcart failed to materialise, as did the claims that the Party was poised for victory in Dunfermline and West Fife. But they seem to have gained momentum now: the Moray By-Election showed progress, albeit in a seat they were defending, and Council By-Elections generally paint a picture of success, though it's possible that most of that is based on the fact that the SNP isn't Labour. However, they can only be buoyed by current opinion polls, which have them making plenty of gains. Even if you discount opinion polls, the papers are starting to look at the SNP as a prospective government, and are considering Alex Salmond as the potential next First Minister. And when did the papers ever do that before? 4/5


They weren't helped by David McLetchie's departure from the Leadership, or from Brian Monteith's expulsion from the Party, but the picture looks bleak: David Cameron seems not to have made an impact in Scotland and Annabel Goldie isn't exactly setting the heather alight either. The fact that the Party is talking about propping up Labour after the election is also an admission of defeat and shows a lack of ambition on the part of the Tories, who as recently as 2004 were talking about overtaking the SNP. 2/5

Liberal Democrats

You have to give them credit for their victory in Dunfermline and West fife, but apart from that, it hasn't ben a good year for them - if Nicol Stephen has acquired a personality, we haven't yet seen it, and the LibDems' attempt to talk themselves up in Moray were cringeworthy. What's interesting is that there's the beginnings of a backlash: Labour (rightly) see them as a threat to their own prospects in places like Edinburgh, and both Westminster and Hloyrood backbenchers are urging the senior coalition partner's leadership to turn their guns on Nicol Stephen. Meanwhile, the Party's row with the Northern Scot newspaper showed that perhaps people were starting to see LibDem tactics as underhanded, and were starting to make a noise about it. Meanwhile, Stephen has painted himself into a corner: if he wants to be in coalition with anyone, he either has to gamble on a Labour cave-in on nuclear power, or try and get the SNP to drop the commitment to a referendum on independence. As neither of these seems likely, he's going to have to make a major concession, more major than any the party ever had to make under Jim Wallace. 3/5


They've been vocal on nuclear power, and have overtaken the SSP in terms of visibility on contentious issues. Also, they've tuned into the fact that they could be in a position of strength after the Election. The Green watchword is clearly 'progress', and we'll see more of it in the next 12 months. 4/5


Do you hear that whooshing noise? That's the sound of an entire party going down the toilet. The only time the SSP appear in the Press now is in stories of infighting, precarious finances or their former Convener's alleged sexual pecadillos. Regardless of the verdict of Tommy Sheridan's proceedings against the News of the World, this whole trial has crippled the SSP and I don't see any way forward for a Party that has been exposed as a ragtag bunch of factions at each other's throats. The only ray of light for them is that their names are at least in the papers, in stark contrast to the insignificance and anonymity that they were almost drowning in a year ago. 1/5


Bernie Hughes said...

I think your summary is fairly accurate. I'd agree that Nicol Stephen hasn't yet made a great mark on the electorate at large, but the decision to firmly underline LibDem opposition to Labour's obsession with nuclear power has increased his standing within the party, rather than 'painted him into a corner'.

Will said...

I'd agree that his current stance on nuclear power chimes well enough with LibDem supporters. However, I do think he's made life difficult for himself (and his party) in the post-election negotiations: he can go again with Labour, in which case he has to either drop his stance on nuclear (and alienate those supporters) or how that Jack thinks that LibDem support is worth breaking ranks with London on nuclear.

Stephen's only other likely option is to work with the SNP and either force them to drop their referendum pledge (and independence is the SNP's raison d'être, remember) or quietly drop his opposition to such a vote.

That's why I think Stephen faces a tough choice, and why he may well regret some of his earlier pronouncements.

Bernie Hughes said...

Thinking back to the first coalition agreement with Labour in 1999, Jim Wallace did let Labour off rather easily during the negotiations, but the lesson was quickly learnt. When the second round of discussions came up after the 2003, the LibDems went in with one strong non-negociable demand: STV for Council Elections. Labour caved, as they had no choice, and no stomach for a fight. I predict the same will happen this time. The LibDems will probably only make a slight advance in terms of seats, but Labour will surely loose serious ground directly to the SNP. So Labour will be in an even weaker position, and will cave on the nuclear issue. Otherwise, the referendum question will be fudged, and there will a coalition with the SNP, and the Greens if necessary. (Maybe I should get down to William Hill's with that one...)