Glasgow & West Scotland

Inverclyde by-election: Labour relief at victory

Iain McKenzie and Anne McLaughlin
Image caption Iain McKenzie held off a challenge from the SNP's Anne McLaughlin

By normal political convention the result of the Inverclyde by-election should never have been in any doubt.

The late David Cairns held the seat for Labour with a majority of more than 14,000.

The campaign was fought in the shadow of his early death, aged just 44, from acute pancreatitis.

The sad context of the contest and the tradition of voting Labour should have all but guaranteed a comfortable win.

But the campaign was anything but comfortable.

What spooked Labour was the fear that the momentum which delivered Alex Salmond's SNP victory at Holyrood in May could also see them win Inverclyde.

Local approach

A sign of the concern Labour felt can be seen in the cast of characters they deployed to the streets of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow.

Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Ed Balls joined hundreds of activists who pounded the hills and housing estates of Inverclyde encouraging people to back the party.

Along with personnel, the party kept policy very local.

Image caption Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott campaigned for Labour

The new MP, Iain McKenzie, is council leader. He kept on repeating his local roots and how well he understood the need to create jobs and retain young people.

He also argued strongly for tough prison sentences for people caught carrying a knife - despite this being an issue devolved to the Scottish parliament.

That combination of manpower and message delivered him a majority of 5,838.

Ann McKechin, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, suggested this result marked a "fightback" by the Labour party in Scotland.

Others will be more cautious. The party is undergoing a review following its disastrous performance in the May Holyrood election.

This result in Inverclyde will give them cheer but party leaders know it may only be temporary unless reforms are undertaken.

SNP campaign

The nationalists genuinely thought they had a chance during parts of this campaign.

Alex Salmond was deployed to the constituency seven times.

In Anne McLaughlin, they had an experienced politician as candidate. She had previously been a Glasgow MSP.

Image caption First Minister Alex Salmond hit the campaign trail in Gourock

The party's share of the vote increased from 17.5% to 35% but they will be disappointed not to have won.

By way of explanation, the party say this is because Scots now vote one way for Westminster and another for Holyrood.

That voter sophistication may have dangers for their independence referendum.

Polls currently suggest Scots like the SNP in government more than they do the prospect of independence.

A discriminating electorate may therefore feel comfortable backing the SNP to govern but not to negotiate the break-up of the union.

But the party insists that sophistication also provides them with an opportunity - to persuade voters to give independence a chance.

The Conservatives lost 2% of the vote but now boast they are the third party of Scotland.

Deposit lost

Inverclyde was never going to be fruitful territory but they mounted a challenge, focussing much of their fire on the SNP in the hope of coming second.

They failed in that aim but have the satisfaction of looking down on the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg's supporters in Inverclyde could now comfortably fit into a tenement block. Just 647 people backed the party and they lost their deposit.

It is another sign of the challenge they face in convincing voters that joining the coalition government has any merits.

For now, in Scotland, there still seems to be an appetite to punish them.

But there is reason for some relief. The party managed to beat the UK Independence Party - something they were not always sure they would do.

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