Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism #11: Lessons from Glasgow North East

Labour’s crushing victory in the Glasgow North East By-election was hailed by the victor Willie Bain as a resounding endorsement of Gordon Brown and a “a resounding ‘No’ to David Cameron.” Well, maybe in Glasgow North East, but I suspect extrapolating the Labour victory in this constituency as having huge implications across the UK political scene would be foolish.

The SNP said throughout the Glasgow North East campaign that the by-election was a two horse race and, after the nationalist victory in Glasgow East last year, victory for them was possible. A case of all too predictable SNP hope over reality. Over the years, the SNP has had a bit of a habit of sensing victory where none exists. Remember the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, so comprehensively won by Willie Rennie? If you’d have believed Alex Salmond a day or so before polling day, SNP victory was certain. In fact, they came a poor third.

The reality is that Labour losing Glasgow North East would have been a bit like the Conservatives losing Kensington and Chelsea. Labour has been kingpin in this part of Glasgow for a very, very long time. Glasgow North East is not your average “swing constituency” and therefore the lessons to be drawn from this particular by-election are limited.

But if there are lessons, what are they?

There’s been much media hype about the fact the BNP nearly came third. I’m not sure the BNP vote signifies very much. Despite all the media attention Griffin and the BNP has had of late, their performance was actually only up 93 votes on 2005. The BNP will remain on the fringes of Scottish politics.

Should the Liberal Democrats be worried by a derisory 474 votes? Not really. Other than Labour and the SNP, all others were going to be squeezed to oblivion. We have been here before – for example, the equally derisory LibDem vote in the 1989 Glasgow Central by-election, where, despite the 1.5% share of the poll gained there, we went on to win the Kincardine and Deeside by-election later in the same parliament.

In my view, the real lesson from Glasgow North East is that, despite all the waffle from Alex Salmond, the nationalists are a long, long way off finishing off Labour in their west of Scotland heartlands. Leaving aside that the shine is coming off the SNP minority government at Holyrood as it breaks election promise after election promise, it is very clear that the SNP is not making the sort of breakthrough in traditional Labour seats that the Glasgow East result in July 2008 implied. The Glasgow East result now looks to be the flash in the pan, where a still popular/populist nationalist administration, a disorganised Labour campaign and a well known local SNP councillor combined to give that by-election to the nationalists.

The likelihood of the SNP now gaining the 20 Westminster seats as they have long claimed they will is fast receding and this presents an opportunity for Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Our priority must be to hold our current 12 Scottish Westminster seats and if that is achieved – and further gains are possible – there’s a good chance we’ll be second in terms of Scottish seats at Westminster after the General Election. Some of the 12 seats are marginal and 2005 was a good year for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, but holding our seats with the possibility of gains is attainable, so, despite the poor LibDem showing in Glasgow North East, the results presents us with an opportunity now the wheels are well and truly off the SNP bandwagon.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds, Parliamentary by-elections and Scotland.
Advert

12 Comments

  • We only got 494 votes and came sixth, behind the BNP and Tommy Sheridan, and you’re not worried? There are none so blind as those who will not see!

    We need to shake up the Scottish party. Tavish Scott needs to start improving fast. His dithering on the al-Megrahi release, and on an independence referendum, was almost as bad as Gordon Brown.

    More fundamentally though, the terrible performance probably stems back to getting rid of Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell. Scottish voters warmed effortlessly to both. How can they possibly relate to Nick Clegg?

  • Herbert Brown 15th Nov '09 - 12:28pm

    “Other than Labour and the SNP, all others were going to be squeezed to oblivion.”

    But they weren’t “squeezed to oblivion” – the other parties between them got 20% of the vote – more than the SNP. The votes of both Labour and the SNP were lower than in 2005, and two thirds of the electorate didn’t bother to vote.

    Clearly, far from a “squeeze” being exerted by Labour and the SNP, there is tremendous disillusionment with both of them. That is a situation in which the Lib Dems should at least be holding their own – not dropping to sixth place and 2% of the vote!

  • Looks like it’s a case of “Alec where’s yer troosers” catching up with the SNP at last. The trail of broken promises…..

  • I don’t think there’s any point in trying to read the tea leaves on this one. With the Westminster parliament becoming increasingly irrelevant in Scotland and a general election just a few months away anyway, this had ‘non-event’ written all over it from the outset.

  • My concern with byelection campaigns generally [and from my name you may gather that I’m not unfamiliar with a parliamentary byelection on the patch!] is quite simple :

    DO WE LEAVE THE LOCAL PARTY BETTER EQUIPPED FOR THE FUTURE AFTER THE TENTS HAVE FOLDED AND MOVED ON ?

    I think I know the answer in C & N – I rather think that I know the answer in GNE as well !!

  • Still think this sort of result shows the lack of understanding of certain Scottish seats from our colleagues south of the border.

    Put simply, there are a large number of seats – mainly concentrated around Glasgow and the West of Scotland – where we’re never going to win in a month of Sundays. Indeed, to address crewegwyn’s point, in a lot of cases there simply isn’t even a local party worth noting to leave in a better position, never mind trying to increase our vote. With this as a background, there are numerous by-elections over the years where our results have been far from satisfctory – Hamilton South, Monklands East, and Govan all spring to mind – but we’ve always been able to perform afterwards. Frankly, the electoral make up in those seats doesn’t reflect those in the seats we do hold – the likes of NE Fife, Gordon, Dunfermline & Edinburgh West – and although we do have to figure out how to break through in the likes of Glasgow it’s really important to understand just how entrenched the Labour party is in that part of Scotland (even with STV, they still have a majority on Glasgow City and North Lanarkshire Councils.)

  • Herbert Brown 16th Nov '09 - 9:56am

    “it’s really important to understand just how entrenched the Labour party is in that part of Scotland”

    It doesn’t so much bother me that the Labour party came first – it’s the fact that four other candidates came ahead of the Lib Dems!

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '09 - 10:46am

    KL


    Put simply, there are a large number of seats – mainly concentrated around Glasgow and the West of Scotland – where we’re never going to win in a month of Sundays. Indeed, to address crewegwyn’s point, in a lot of cases there simply isn’t even a local party worth noting to leave in a better position, never mind trying to increase our vote.

    Yes, but the same applies to the Conservative Party. If we ended up with a similar share of the vote to the Tories here, fine, I’d accept your case. But we didn’t – it was far smaller.

    I checked back today with some old general election figures I had from the 1980s, because I too thought “Oh, we always get tiny shares of the vote in Glasgow”. But back in 1983 we were getting respectable shares of the vote there – we weren’t going to win (but we did in the Hillhead by-election), but we were picking up enough not to be embarrassed, and a few second places amongst the also-rans who were anyone but Labour.

    When there isn’t much on the ground, we do rely on a national image to pick up votes. So this marks a deep failure of the party nationally (I leave that “nationally” ambiguous, because I don’t know enough about what goes on in Scotland these days to be able to say is it a UK party thing or a Scottish party thing).

  • Sorry – another thing I should have added is that the Scottish media coverage of the by-election has been virtually nil (bar a couple of on-line debates and one on STV at some time around midnight.). Not something the party can really do anything about, but I don’t think it helped either turnout or our vote (or that of the SNP, for that matter.)

    Matthew, what you need to remember also is that there has always been a bedrock Conservative vote in Scotland – the “working class Conservative” if you like. Up until about 1983, the Tories had Scottish MPs in places like Glasgow Cathcart (Teddy Taylor) and Inverclyde, so I’d say in most Scottish seats there is probably a hard core Tory support of around 5% (I don’t know when they last lost a deposit in Scotland – it may have been in 1997, but I don’t think they did even then.) I still think the comparison is better with similar by-elections in the West of Scotland than with a GE – Hillhead doesn’t really fit this because of its predominantly student and middle-class demographic.

  • “A case of all too predictable SNP hope over reality. Over the years, the SNP has had a bit of a habit of sensing victory where none exists. Remember the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, so comprehensively won by Willie Rennie? If you’d have believed Alex Salmond a day or so before polling day, SNP victory was certain. In fact, they came a poor third.”
    Ha, that’s brilliant. Comedy gold.
    http://by-elections.co.uk/moray/ldmoray03b.jpg

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Nov '09 - 10:05am

    KL, yes I am aware of the Scottish working class Tory vote, sometimes called the “orange vote”. I am old enough to remember when Teddy Taylor was a Glasgow MP. But if you’re going to use that, there is also a Scottish “Celtic fringe” traditional Liberal vote. You cannot get round the fact that we have lost support we had in the past – there wasn’t much of it in places like this, but there was some – and the Tories haven’t.

    I wouldn’t be expecting miracles in a seat like this, but if our bedrock support is less than 1%, that IS something to worry about. When our country is in such a mess, the Labour Party has moved so far from its traditional “party of the people” role that gained it so many votes in this sort of place, and the Tory Party offers nothing but more and deeper of what Labour got us into this mess using, we OUGHT to be picking up some sort of vote everywhere, and have some sort of appeal to the traditional Labour voter who thinks his or her party has lost touch with its origins.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 25th Jun - 11:31pm
    The programme is about family holidays in the Maldives paid for by the government of the Maldives. Ian Paisley MP appears to be in trouble,...
  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 25th Jun - 11:19pm
    Peter Martin, loans are being repaid all the time and new lending is occuring all the time. That applies equally to public and private sector...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 25th Jun - 10:27pm
    @ JoeB, "Mortgage loans are typically 25 to 30 years – far longer than a typical 10 year gilt, so not short-term at all." So...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 25th Jun - 9:50pm
    @ Tony Lloyd, The Lisbon Treaty was effectively the repackaging of the European Constitution. So, J-C J and friends had their way after all. “If...
  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 25th Jun - 9:34pm
    Peter Martin, "Bank lending does this in the short term, so not ". UK household debt is circa £1.6 trillion. Mortage debt is cica £1.4...
  • User AvatarMick Taylor 25th Jun - 8:29pm
    Mr Martin and the flaw in your argument is that houses and land cannot vanish or be moved, so they are available for taxation on...