21 October 2008

Better to cuddle than to squeeze

This started life as a comment on Stephen Glenn's fine blog, but it was turning into an essay so I'm putting it here instead.

Brian Taylor has been considering the SNP prospects in Glenrothes, and has considerd that the LibDems are stronger in Fife than in Glasgow, so their vote will be harder to squeeze. Now, I'd have thought that seeing as there's a larger LibDem vote (but the party were still third in Glenrothes, and behind the SNP by a wider margin than they were in Glasgow East, I'd have thought that it would be easier to squeeze rather than harder. However, that's balanced out by the LibDems' Council strength in Fife: they are the junior Coalition partner with the SNP, but they are only the jnior partner by one seat. And, of course, they have the Willie Rennie victory under their belt, consolidated by Jim Tolson gaining Dunfermline West at Holyrood. Nevertheless, a Council By-Election in the Glenrothes constituency (Markinch & Woodside East, to be precise) before the 2007 Election showed a 30% Labour-SNP swing, and of course, Tricia Marwick unseated Labour's Christine May a year and a half ago. So it;s finely balanced: the LibDem local structure appears robust, but so does the SNP's.

However, there's less of an onus to squeeze the LibDem vote. In Glasgow East, the close result meant that the squeeze on Ian Robertson helped to carry John Mason over the line; that's not the case in Glenrothes.

Rather, an inverse of what happened in Dunfermline & West Fife would work out for the SNP: with Labour losing a sizeable chunk of its vote, the bulk of it heading Peter Grant's way and the LibDems, if anything, enjoying a slight increase (as opposed to the LibDems taking the lion's share of former Labour voters and the SNP vote share going up by 2%). In fact, were there to be a Glasgow East-style swing against Labour, the SNP and LDs could split that vote almost equally (50.5%:49.5%) and the SNP would just squeak home. Even a fall in the Labour vote along the lines of D&WF, could be split by just over 70% of ex-Labour voters to the SNP against just under 30% to the LibDems and still the SNP would gain.

And it might not be desirable to hit the LibDem vote quite so heavily: the SNP and LibDems are in Coalition in Fife, and the situation is particularly fragile, not just because of the small advantage that the SNP have over their partners, but because Labour are the largest party, and if Peter Grant's campaign really pisses the LibDems off, they can walk. And even if they don't go straight into Coalition with Labour, they would surely be in a position to depose the remaining SNP part of the administration and take charge as a minority. So it's not in the SNP's local interests to go toe-to-toe with the LibDems.

Obviously, every vote matters, but the trends from Glasgow East and Dunfermline show that the SNP's priority has to be picking up disaffected Labour voters rather than trying to hoover up the LibDems. And the risks of hitting the LibDems particularly hard - i.e. inadvertantly giving Labour new momentum in the form of a new Council administration - could outweigh the benefits.

So all in all, the SNP might not want to roughly squeeze support from a party whose backing they need. A gentle cuddle might be better.


Stephen Glenn said...

I see you managed to make an essay out of only one of the point that Brain and therefore my self raised.

When do we expect to see parts 2 and 3? ;)

stuart w said...

Don't know if it's really relevant to your analysis, but the LibDem strength in Fife is mainly in the NE (ie the old NE Fife District Council area), which is a very different beast from Glenrothes.

Indeed, prior to last year's local elections under PR I doubt if Labour/SNP had one councillor between them out of at least a dozen in the NE Fife area.

Stevie said...

It's difficult to find Lib Dem voters in Glenrothes to upset!
So I wouldn't worry too much, I just hope some of them find it in their hearts to vote tactically to hump Labour, as they are still a long way from credibility in the constituency, as we seem to be in NE Fife.

neil craig said...

I think national elections are so ,uch more important in the public mind (& voter turnout) that the SNP would consider taking the seat & keeping up their momentum well worth the council. The thing is that the LibDems were Scotland's 2nd party at the last election & genuinely seen as much more inteligent than their Labour partners/competitors - how the approaching mightiness have fallen that they really aren't seen as competitors now.