BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian
« Previous | Main | Next »

All to play for?

Brian Taylor | 12:48 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009

For Labour, an excellent result. A comprehensive victory over their most bitter rivals, the SNP.

Almost as thorough a gubbing as United inflicted on the Dark Blues in their "friendly" on Tuesday.

Is Gordon Brown, then, a shoe-in to return to Downing Street as PM rather than occasional dinner guest? Behave yourself.

Is it, then, "game on" for the General Election, as the new MP Willie Bain (to whom congratulations) suggested?

Understandable exuberance from the newly elected one - but an extrapolation too far.

It will give Labour hope that they can forestall Alex Salmond's aim of 20 Scottish seats.

But, more generally, Labour will not be facing the SNP in the English swing seats they need to win.

Further, there may be more residual sympathy and support for Gordon Brown in Scotland than south of the border.

So, if it doesn't predict the UK General Election, what does it tell us?

Firstly, it confirms that the previously buoyant SNP are vulnerable to tough campaigning. (Confirms? Remember Glenrothes.)

Labour fought this by-election in a relentlessly oppositional fashion.

They listed the iniquities supposedly visited upon Glasgow by the Scottish government.

Or, as they repeatedly called it, "the Edinburgh SNP government."

See Glasgow? See Edinburgh? That mantra plays to every intuitive grievance within the population of the Dear Green Place.

It is a single transferable prejudice.

In vain did the SNP protest that the accusations were misplaced.

In vain did they try to turn the attack round to complaints about Glasgow Council over schooling.

The Labour attack found a receptive audience.

SNP strategists point to another factor. They say that - unlike in Glasgow East - they couldn't find or motivate sufficient numbers of aspirational voters to conclude that things, in the words of their rival's sometime song, could only get better.

Folk were unhappy. Folk were bitter. Folk were exasperated. But the response was hopelessness and helplessness - rather than anger and a determination to drive change.

Not sure that entirely explains the quite remarkable difference between Glasgow East and Glasgow NE.

But Nationalists are adamant that it was a factor.

What of the respective campaigns? Willie Bain seldom stumbled, cheerfully disowning his own UK government's policies where appropriate.

Without blushing, he declared repeatedly that he was "no politician".

Behind the scenes, the effort was large and sustained.

For the SNP, it sometimes seemed to me that David Kerr was holding back, perhaps fearful of sounding abrasive.

In the various broadcast hustings, it was Ruth Davidson of the Tories (of whom, perhaps, we will now hear more) who appeared to be taking the fight most aggressively to Labour.

Then again, she wasn't facing the ad hominem attacks directed at Mr Kerr. She had less to lose.

In all, this result dents SNP momentum. It buoys Labour. I doubt, however, whether there is a direct, untrammeled read-through from Glasgow NE to the UK General Election or electoral behaviour more generally.

The voters appear to be scunnered with politics: look at the turnout, a record Scottish low in a by-election.

Their trust is still there to be won and lost in a wider contest.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.