25 July 2008

Even better - 365

Well the SNP got over the line! It was, as everyone suspected, a close-run thing. But to turn a Labour majority of 13,507 into an SNP majority of 365 in one By-Election, and end an 86-year Labour grip on the area is no mean feat.

There's no doubt that the momentum is now in one place in Scotland: with the SNP. Now as the LibDems will testify - they branded themselves the party of real momentum after 2005 - momentum is fickle, but for now, the signs are good. With a likely By-Election for John Mason MP's seat on Glasgow City Council in the offing, after last night, you would expect the SNP candidate to hold it. There's a By-Election likely in Motherwell & Wishaw in a few months - this sort of swing would make it very winnable for the SNP. And first place in the European Elections looks like a very real possibility.

Basically, this is the first major electoral test for the SNP since May 2007, and the party passed it with flying colours. And if John Mason isn't able to hold it in 2010, the local SNP finds itself with one hell of a candidate for one of the redrawn seats in the 2011 Holyrood election. So that election, in Glasgow East at least, is a potential win-win scenario.

The one note of caution I'd sound is that after Crewe & Nantwich and Henley, it looks like there more of an anti-Labour development in the offing than a pro-SNP one (or, in England, a pro-Tory one). However, this result shows that the growing anti-Labour brigade see the SNP as their best bet in Scotland. And in turn, the result will present the SNP as a strong choice for other voters fed up with Labour. As long as the SNP continue to offer something alongside not being Labour - and the very nature of the SNP means that it will.

Labour, meanwhile, have handled this badly. Unless Margaret Curran wins this seat in 2010, they now face a divisive selection battle for Holyrood in this part of Glasgow (though if she stands and loses again, she does make that easier: she'll have become a proven electoral liability and it'll be easier to ditch her in favour of Frank McAveety in South East Glasgow). And holding a quick By-Election has proved disastrous for two reasons: firstly, by not delaying this and holding the Labour Leadership Election quickly, that contest is held under a cloud. Iain Gray, as Brown's apparently favoured candidate, is probably doomed if Brown is blamed for the result, so this becomes a potential Jamieson/Gordon battle. This won't do anything to challenge the view of Labour as a West Central Scotland party, and the Glasgow East result shows they're vulnerable even in this heartland. And the idea of Labour dominated by, but not dominating, the West Coast has the potential to be a massive turn-off for them.

The second reason a quick By-Election was daft is that now there's two sets of fall-out: the start of the summer recess is dominated by the result, which will send Labour into a spell of in-fighting over the Summer. And even if they get it together at Conference (doubtful), one of the first things to happen when Parliament meets again in the Autumn will be the swearing in of John Mason MP. This will be a painful reminder of what happened at the start of the Summer, and could even re-open old wounds.

What of the Tories? Well, this shows that there has to be a reason for people to vote Tory, that the "Cameron effect" on its own isn't enough: in Crewe, there was a reason to vote Tory: they were the challenger to Labour, while in Henley they were the incumbent party fielding a local candidate. In Glasgow East they managed to move up to third simply by not losing as many votes as the LibDems. This shows that the Tory advance as a whole is only relative: it's like that feeling that the train you're on is moving when it's actually still standing at the platform but the train next to you is pulling off: Labour and the LibDems are going down so it seems like the Tories are going up, but as the next Election draws near, it won't be enough just to be a change, and they will have to set out just what sort of change they represent. The next Westminster election is theirs to lose (and I don't see that happening), but it would be nice if between now and then, we got some sort of feel as to what an incoming Tory government would actually want to do.

And this was, for the LibDems, a total disaster. Falling to fourth is one thing, but losing the deposit? The leadership vacuum in Scotland doesn't help, but it's telling that Nick Clegg, the Federal leader, didn't seem to fill that vacuum. I said at the start of his tenure in charge that his lack of a distinctive personality or distinctive policies would hurt the LibDems and that looks to be the case: there's just no reason to vote LibDem anymore, least of all in Scotland where they're the third largest opposition party, overshadowed by Labour and the Tories, and not carrying the profile of being even the junior partner in Government.

The SSP, on the other hand, have a huge amount to cheer about, and it seems that they are not dead yet as a political force. Now their fifth place may owe more to people not looking where they put their cross (and I don't agree that it's calling the voters stupid to assume that this has happened: you're not telling me that every voter gives 100% concentration if, for example, they're rushing in on their way to or from work; mistakes happen, though having said that, I don't think that the SSP got two thirds of their vote through people not paying attention), but fifth place is fifth place and they've overtaken Solidarity in Glasgow. Which is what they wanted to do more than anything.

Soldiarity, meanwhile, are looking even more doomed. Their leaders are under investigation for perjury, their only Councillor defected to Labour of all parties and now they've fallen behind the party they flounced out of in the first major electoral test since last year, when Tommy Sheridan missed out on a Regional seat in Glasgow by a whisker.

Finally, the Greens have some cause for disappointment, but this isn't their strongest area in Glasgow. The problem is that I see the Greens as a 'middle-class guilt' sort of party and middle-class guilt just won't play in the East End of Glasgow. And I've been holding off on a post about why I don't think environmentalists are the best people to guide us through these troubled economic times so for now I'll confine myself to suggesting that celebrating events that make getting from A to B or heating your home more difficult isn't going to convince people that you have the solutions the problems that people seem worried about.


boxthejack said...

A huge result for the SNP, and for Salmond in particular, despite a pretty average looking candidate.

A disaster for Labour despite a very credible candidate.

I'm inclined to agree with Brian Taylor that you can't really read much into the Tory/LD votes though, both parties having excellent candidates but failing really to make a mark in a two horse race. The Cons will be cautiously happy, the LDs will be quietly concerned. I don't think they're necessarily in a pickle as you suggest. Fortunately I think Nicol created enough distance from Labour between November and his departure to have avoided any particular fall out from their collapse.

As for the socialist parties, they could have come fourth had they not split. The SSP need to just keep plugging away and hope that Solidarity fizzles to nowt.

dependsontheswing said...

agree mostly with Boxthejack. Great result for the snp with an average candidate and dreadful result for labour with a good candidate. however, i would say it was a good result for the tories who rougly held their vote despite the obvious squeeze, and a disappointing, rather than disastrous, result for the libdems.

i still think labour made a mistake not getting brown up on the wednesday before the election. ok, he's unpopular, but he's harldy likely to become more unpopular by actually visiting the seat and meeting concerned local voters. put him in front of a few chosen local people, get him to talk about the job labour have done in glasgow east but that they still have lot to do - it would have taken most of the coverage from salmond and at least given the perception that labour were still listening. personally, i think it would have been more than enough to win the extra votes necessary to have beaten the snp.

Ideas of Civilisation said...


I think this analysis is not far wrong. There are no doubts that the SNP are the party with the 'big M' now.

Whilst I suspect that some is this is part of an anti-government/Labour vote that doesn't mean it won't help the SNP just now. I suppose the question is what they want to do with this. The obvious one is to hold and win an independence referendum, but that's two years away.

The European Elections are probably timed quite well for the SNP - assuming they do as well as current polls suggest this gives them another big win to set them for the 2010 referendum.

The next general election is slightly cloudier. If it is much more likely to be a Tory-Labour race at Westminster might some of the votes which swung to the SNP on Thursday go back to Labour?

Of course the one thing about momentum is that it takes a while to build up but can be lost suddenly. I do wonder what happens if the SNP lose the referendum in terms of how this would affect the next Holyrood election?

At that stage it becomes a battle between Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP for the centre/centre-left votes. The SNP could certainly keep/win these votes but only if they're seen to bury the independence issue for a while, which could obviously cause disquiet amongst much of the party membership.

If the constitutional question was taken out of Scottish politics (one way or the other) I think this might lead to a bit of reevaluation of where the parties sit and how they operate. Having a Parliament with such similar views (there’s no real substantial difference between Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP and even to some extent the Tories) can’t be healthy.

At this point would it mean that one of these parties begins to fall away or that we would again see the rise of smaller parties, such as the Greens, etc? That prospect alone is enough for all the parties to at least consider this now, with Labour having most cause to do so.

Will said...

BTJ, I see what you're saying but I still think that the By-Election is a big problem for the LibDems. Their problem in Glasgow East was a similar problem to the one Labour had in Henley (and with the same result): there was just no reason to vote for them there. The LibDem policies didn't stand out, and while Ian put n a good performance in debates, he was damaged by the fact that this was painted as a Curran/Mason contest and he wasn't able to break through - just as Clegg seems unable to break into the Brown/Cameron battle.

The key to the SNP success for me was that it was seen to be worth voting SNP. The predictions of victory were the main part fo this: by making it look as though the SNP could win, that made John Mason appear to be a viable option in a way that previous SNP candidates perhaps haven't. That made him a more attractive candidate, which got him more votes, which won him the seat. Hey presto! A self-fulfilling prophecy.

By contrast, the LibDems never looked like they were in it to win it. There didn't seem to be an attempt to present a challenge from third place as in Brent East and I can't help but wonder if the party machine was simply content to let the Big 2 slug it out.

Conversely, I accept what dependsontheswing said: the Tories did do all right considering the circumstances. But I do wonder if this is a retrograde step for them: the balance of power in Holyrood has given Tory MSPs a relevance there. However, here in a perceived Labour/SNP contest, the main UK opposition just couldn't break into it. Now on the one hand, Glasgow East just isn't a Tory seat, but on the other, if the Tories are still being bypassed in Scottish political campaigning, there's a problem there that they need to address.

IoC, I think you're right: I think this is a combination of pro-SNP and anti-Labour advance, but it was probably the latter that carried us over the line. The General is the big question - if we're seeing a desire to give Labour a kicking then it's just possible that the SNP might become a vehicle for that as happened in 1987 (losing two seats to Labour but gaining three from the Tories) and 1997 (contributing to the Tory wipeout). It all depends on how successful Labour are at hitting Scottish voters with the Tory Stick, or whether the SNP become seen as the people best placed to stand up to an inevitable Tory Government.

As for the referendum, I'm still not convinced that it'll get through the Parliament: I suspect Labour will find a reason to vote against it.

Political Dissuasion said...

The by-election is nothing but a kicking for the Lib Dems.

There were three, two-horse races going on. Lab v SNP, Tories v Lib Dems and Solidarity v SSP.

Robertson was infinitely better than the Tories Davena - she was truly the worst candidate I've ever seen, and Robertson seems to be the only one (of all the candidates) that came out looking good. But when you've got that head start on the candidates and still get spanked by the Tories IN GLASGOW(!), then the party itself is nothing but a name on paper. Clegg was never going to cut it, but overall, they have nothing special. The end is nigh.

Blagger1 said...

I'd agree with will and Political Dissuasion, and strongly disagree with boxthejack's views on Nicol Stephen. People really have few reasons for voting LibDem just now, and Nicol's behaviour after the 2007 Holyrood election meant that he became perceived as Wendy Alexander's wingman. Whilst being in the frontline (and over the top, frankly) over the Trump story, he was conspicuously silent on Alexander's donations shenanigans. And the LibDems have been pretty much a policy-free zone since May 07. Even the timing of his own standing down gave the impression of being joined at the hip to Labour. Contrast his behaviour with Annabel Goldie's - picking her areas of influence and keeping a healthy distance from the other parties (Calman Commission excepted).
I've read analysis somewhere, that when the LibDem vote in Scotland gets squeezed, it tends to break evenly between Labour and the SNP. Obviously that didn't happen in Glasgow East: in fact given the quality of the candidate, it shouldn't have been squeezed at all.