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The Inverclyde by-election: business as usual for Scottish voters

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The Inverclyde by-election: business as usual for Scottish voters

Posted on 01 July 2011 by admin

Labour’s result in the Inverclyde by-election (30 June 2011) was an impressive electoral performance, particularly coming so soon after Scottish Labour’s humiliation at the hands of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections in May. The principal Scottish Parliament constituency in the area, Greenock & Inverclyde, saw Labour squeak to a 511-vote majority over the SNP in the election in May, while the SNP won the other local constituency (Renfrewshire North and West). The result in the area covered by the Inverclyde Westminster seat was probably nearly a tie between Labour and SNP.  For Labour to win by 5,838 votes (20.8 per cent) in June marks a considerable recovery.

Many observers, myself included, had expected a much closer result than this or perhaps an SNP victory, and Labour had been pessimistic during the campaign. This was as much because of the historical pattern than the timing of the by-election in the afterglow of the SNP’s sweeping Holyrood victory. By-elections in working class, hitherto ‘safe’ Labour seats in Scotland tend to become straight contests between Labour and the SNP, and the SNP enjoys a large swing. This has happened almost regardless of the political climate. Some huge swings have happened despite Labour generally riding high at the time (Monklands East, Hamilton South), as well as at low ebbs (Glasgow East). The very biggest in the last 30 years, Glasgow Govan in 1988, came when Labour was in a disheartened and divided condition a year after it did well in Scotland despite losing the election nationally. Inverclyde therefore should be particularly pleasing for Labour and Ed Miliband.

The Liberal Democrat vote in Inverclyde was humiliatingly low, but it was part of the general pattern of collapse where an election becomes a two-way contest between Labour and the SNP. With the exception of Paisley South in 1997 (and even more Dunfermline & West Fife in 2006 when the Lib Dems started a clear second to Labour), the party loses its deposit in these circumstances.  Inverclyde is worse than most of them for the party because it is the only place where the Lib Dems had much of a presence beforehand. They controlled the local authority before 2007, and Greenock was a very rare place with a working-class Liberal history. They ran Labour fairly close in 1970, despite Menzies Campbell withdrawing as candidate because the election clashed with his wedding. In 1983 a Liberal candidate (A.J. Blair) also polled well, with over 36 per cent of the vote.

Inverclyde illustrates two facts about Scottish voters. They favour left-of-centre government, and they are pragmatic and intelligent about how they achieve it. Apparently enormous electoral changes like Labour’s victory in 2010 and the SNP landslide in 2011 are reflections of these basic attitudes, and Inverclyde confirms that Scots’ voting choices are very dependent on the context. The Westminster village seems to have decided that Labour is doing badly in opposition, but voters in Inverclyde clearly do not think so – if they did, they would have delivered a shock to the system like the voters of Govan did in 1988. Labour, in Scotland and in Westminster, can take a great deal of comfort from the result – but would be foolish to conclude from it that the voters are having second thoughts about their emphatic support for the SNP’s Scottish government.

Link to original post at Democratic Audit Blog

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Great expectations (1 May 2007)

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Great expectations (1 May 2007)

Posted on 01 May 2007 by admin

There has been so much interest in the Scottish parliament elections because so much is at stake, writes Lewis Baston

The Scottish parliament elections have dominated the thoughts of commentators on Thursday’s poll because the stakes for Labour and the SNP are so high, and the powers of the parliament so strong.

The SNP is trying once again to break into Labour’s strongholds in the central belt of Scotland, where most of the population lives and which has never yet succumbed to the nationalists’ charms.

There are a number of seats where the SNP has a sizeable vote and a local government base and where they should expect to win constituencies from Labour.

Among these seats are Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, Kilmarnock & Loudoun, Dundee West and Linlithgow, and the next line of defence for Labour in East Kilbride, Fife Central, Livingston and Glasgow Govan.

The last of these has repeatedly been denied to the SNP deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon; could this at last be her year?

The Labour majorities in many other seats in 2003 were so mountainous that it is nearly impossible to imagine them falling, which would be necessary if the SNP are to achieve the high end (50 or more seats) of their projected tally of seats.

The final balance between Labour and SNP will be affected by the cross-traffic between the big two and the smaller parties.

The Conservatives are of pretty marginal significance, but just as the SNP will hope that the Tories can knock out Labour in Dumfries, Labour will be hoping the Conservative MSP in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, Alex Fergusson, will hold his highly marginal seat.

The PR system should mean that the number of seats achieved by both the Conservatives and Lib Dems should not alter greatly (17-20 each) as long as their shares of the regional list vote are not squeezed.

The Socialists, who did well in 2003 but have since split, are expected to fall back from their 6 seats to 2 at best, and possibly none at all.

Expectations about the Greens vary. Early poll-based predictions of them being similarly cut back were probably unrealistic. The party should absorb some of the anti-Labour vote that does not feel committed to the SNP, and get something between 4 and 8 seats.

So, barring a late swing in opinion (for which Labour devoutly hopes) the outcome should be something like SNP 45, Labour 40, Lib Dem 18, Conservative 17, Green 6 and others 3; not as catastrophic for Labour as it might be, but still abject enough.

Things have got to the stage that the smallest of Labour leads would count as some sort of moral victory.

In the coalition formation game, the Conservatives have counted themselves out, leaving the Liberal Democrats in the position of kingmaker between the SNP and Labour.

While there should be absolutely no presumption that the largest party is somehow “entitled” to the position of first minister, it seems the most likely outcome.

Even so, there is a reasonable chance that even with the support of the Lib Dems, the largest party will not have a majority in the Scottish parliament and an arrangement with the Greens may be necessary. Lib Dem plus SNP, in one form or another, seems probable.

The implications of such a result and such a government emerging are potentially huge, leaving aside the temporary but intense humiliation of Labour being beaten in Scotland for the first time since 1955.

While the Lib Dems would insist on various safeguards on the core SNP demand of an independence referendum, any SNP-led government would be an exercise in building support for independence.

The relationship with the Westminster government would be confrontational and prickly on every issue.

Further constitutional wrangling would be likely to alienate English electors and fuel demands for measures such as English-only votes for some issues at Westminster.

Within a couple of years, Scottish independence could be more popular south of the border than north of it.

The unity of the Liberal Democrats would be under severe strain if they end up in the curious position of joining forces with Labour at Westminster after the next election while sustaining the SNP in Holyrood.

It would be like betting on both contenders in a dog fight.

With all this excitement over the devolved bodies, it should not be forgotten that Scotland’s 32 local authorities are also up for election and, thanks to the Scottish parliament, the electoral system has changed to the single transferable vote (STV) which will relate votes and seats more closely in council elections and abolish single-party fiefdoms.

The immediate partisan effect of the change is to give the SNP a foothold in many councils where it has previously polled a respectable vote that did not translate into seats; there is a net transfer of something like 115 seats from Labour to SNP from this source alone.

The effects of STV in this election, and the working of councils after the dust settles, may prove an example for future developments in England and Wales.


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