23 June 2007

On the way out

Much has already been written about Mohammad Sarwar's decision to stand down as MP for Glasgow Central at the next election. It is, of course, all too easy to link this to the fact that he and his family have been receiving death threats following his part in getting the murderers of Glasgow teenager Kriss Donald behind bars. Frankly, I'm not so sure. Firstly, him not being an MP after 2009 isn't necessarily going to stop the threats, as I'm sure he's aware. Secondly, Sarwar himself has denied that the threats have caused his decision. Now normally, the first rule in politics is never to believe anything until it's been denied, but in this case, I'll make an exception. Why? Because the killers were known to the community. They were known, their characters were known. Sarwar knew what he was getting into when he played his part in their being brought to justice. He showed courage (and helped others to show similar courage) in those circumstances, and on that form, I would assume that death threats aren't something that would put him off.

But attention is now turning to his successor. Anas Sarwar (Mohammad's son) is emerging as the favourite for the Labour candidacy, but that assumes that Labour will win the seat next time. Part of the seat now has an SNP Constituency MSP (Nicola Sturgeon, the Health Secretary). There are now 22 SNP Councillors in the City (there were only 4 under the old system). Labour will be suffering from voter fatigue having been in power for 12 years. The incumbent MP will have quit, which will weaken the Labour position further, and there are more prominent local SNP figures involved in Glasgow's politics. All of that put together make Sarwar's lead of more than nine thousand votes over the SNP look a little less commanding than it did before the May election. The one cloud over this vista is the fact that it was the LibDem candidate who came second last time, which means that the good people of Glasgow Central will be subjected to months of 'Only the LibDems can beat Labour here!!!!!' Given the current situation facing the LibDems, with them losing a seat in May, and both Sir Menzies Campbell and Nicol Stephen under a very uncomfortable spotlight, they might not be able to capitalise on the situation. This means that three parties will be claiming that they can win: Labour (obviously), the SNP and (as always) the LibDems. Which one of them does win, however, may be less certain than we've thought up to now.

Then there's Baron Foulkes of Cumnock, who has quit the Subordinate Legislation Committee to spend more time in the House of Lords. I kid you not. Now, this is one of the Committees that Huffy Helen quit last week, so Labour now have just one member on it. But there are two interesting issues here. The first is George Foulkes's future at Holyrood: Davie Hutchison thinks that that future might be short, and that Carol Fox might replace him as an MSP before long. It's certainly possible: I think Foulkes made one of two miscalculations. Either he assumed Labour would do well enough in terms of Constituencies or badly enough in terms of the Regional Vote that he wouldn't get in, or (and I prefer this interpretation), he swallowed the line that Labour MPs bandied about, concerning how little Regional MSPs had to do with their time, and that they were basically lobby fodder for their parties. Foulkes is finding out the hard way that this isn't actually the case, especially given the current political landscape where votes are won and lost on a knife-edge and Members absolutely, positively have to be in their seats at 5 p.m. (Interestingly, Sarwar has hinted at the possibility that he might seek election to Holyrood at some point 'if he gets bored in retirement' - Foulkes might want to warn him that being an MSP is more demanding than he thinks)

The second issue is that of the Labour Party. We thought they'd implode spectacularly on defeat, but McConnell appears to be keeping things ticking over. Except that they seem to be suffering a Death by a Thousand Pinpricks, with two flounce-outs on Committees and two minor rebellions at Decision Time, sometimes involving Shadow Cabinet Secretaries - more on the latest tomorrow, by the way. Perhaps Labour's collapse into chaos is going to be a slow, painful affair. This will of course horrify Scottish Labour MPs, who I suppose would prefer a cathartic change in Leadership and direction right now so that the Party can be back and ready to fight in time for the Westminster Election. Instead, they're getting a series of little niggles: a resignation here, a rebellion there, drip-drip-dripping away from now until 2009.

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