The Labour and Liberal Democrat dimensions

Now that there has been some time to allow the result of the Glasgow East by-election, I feel like posting some thoughts that are less drunken and kneejerk than my previous post. Originally this was going to be one post, but I ended up blabbing for almost 3,000 words so I have split this into three separate posts which will appear one-by-one over the coming days.

First of all, I’ve spotted a few people south of the border wondering about the impact of the result on the union. For instance, Jennie at The Yorkeshire Gob, Jonathan Calder at Liberal England.

I might be on my own here, but my impression is that people in Scotland simply are not asking that same question. I must say that, as far as I can see it, the Glasgow East by-election result could hardly mean less for the union. Although the SNP are proud — and rightly so — of their victory last week, the reality is that this was much more of a Labour loss than an SNP win. Deep down, I think the SNP know that too.

I read (or heard, I can’t remember) a good analysis of Labour’s current woes. I have completely forgotten where I saw this, but the analysis was this. While the people of England and Wales have fallen out of love with Gordon Brown, the people of Scotland have fallen out of love of the Labour Party.

As regular readers may remember, I have from time to time been quite exasperated at how much people (perhaps particularly people south of the border) are still prepared to give the Labour Party the benefit of the doubt time and time again. I think now I understand why. The Labour Party in Scotland acts differently to the Labour Party in the rest of the UK. It’s certainly perceived differently.

Here in Scotland, voters smell the stench of corruption in the Labour Party. When you bear this in mind, as Holyrood Watcher points out, it’s not so difficult to understand why Labour lost in Glasgow East.

It is not just financial wrongdoings either — it’s a sense that Labour took its core voters for granted. There is a mega mega backlash against Labour in its core constituencies in Scotland.

Take my part of the world, Fife, as an example. Until recently, Fife was completely red apart from in the slightly more rural north-eastern part where Menzies Campbell enjoys a healthy majority.

That changed in 2006 when the Liberal Democrats took the Dunfermline and West Fife seat in a by-election, overturning a significant Labour majority. That was an election that Labour shouldn’t really have lost. But the loss was just blamed on Iraq, or whatever, and people shrugged their shoulders and carried on.

Then last year in the Scottish Parliamentary elections the SNP pulled off a surprise by winning Fife Central. It wasn’t the safest of Labour seats, but it was still a sign that Fife wasn’t quite the Labour heartland it used to be.

That was in the Scottish Parliamentary election. But if I remember correctly, the SNP are fairly confident that they will win the roughly corresponding Westminster constituency of Glenrothes. I have relatives in Glenrothes and apparently there is a lot of support for the SNP there.

Assuming the Lib Dems cling on to their two other seats in Fife, that would leave Labour with just one seat in Fife — Gordon Brown’s in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, where I live. Given the massive unpopularity of Gordon Brown at the moment, any “halo effect” there might have been will probably have vanished, and who is to say that the SNP cannot win here? Come the Westminster election I am planning to vote for the SNP to get rid of Labour.

And here is the thing. The SNP can probably count on much of its support for this reason. It is an anti-Labour thing rather than a pro-SNP thing. That can be seen from the fact that (according to my line of events anyway — your mileage may vary!) the ball was started rolling by the Lib Dems.

For a while I thought that the significant anti-Labour vote would mean that whichever party was in the best position to beat Labour in a particular constituency would grab the votes. Come the Scottish Parliamentary election it didn’t quite work out that way and the only real beneficiaries were the SNP.

I guess in the end the Lib Dems were unable to gain in the same way for a number of reasons. First of all, the media coverage made the election into a Labour vs. SNP battle pretty early on. Also, the Lib Dems did not run a great campaign from what I could see, and I never thought Nicol Stephen was up to much as leader.

Also, the Lib Dems were tainted by association. It was difficult for them to capitalise on the anti-Labour vote when they were having to spend the election campaign defending their record as part of a coalition partnership with Labour. That’s why the SNP capitalised on the Labour backlash and the Lib Dems didn’t.

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