Hey everyone At ten to one this morning Labour’s Alex Rowley successfully held his party’s seat in the Cowdenbeath by-election for the Scottish Parliament and was elected to serve as the new MSP replacing his former college Helen Eadie who died from cancer at the end of last year.
Though a good result for the Labour Party this was a seat they were always expected to hold and with a degree of comfort I say this despite the SNP having an excellent candidate in the brilliant Natalie McGarry. Indeed had the result went against Labour I would venture to suggest they would be a party in very deep chocolate.
As it was Rowley not only won the seat he increased Labour’s majority and achieved an 11 per cent swing from the SNP giving both the candidate and the party a real reason to celebrate with favourite tipples being the order of the day back at campaign headquarters. However before they carried away I suggest that the Labour Party temper their celebrations with a touch of caution as this result may not be all it seems and should they read too much in to their victory rather than factoring in a few facts it could lead to another crushing defeat in the Scottish Election of 2016.
So let’s have a look at the facts of yesterday’s vote and examine why though Mr Rowley’s victory though undeniably a good result for Labour certainly wasn’t as game changing as they or their friends in the press and media would have you believe.
The first thing to say is that this victory was a Labour hold not a Labour gain. I say this to stop any euphoria in its tracks because it would seem logical to someone such as myself that if the SNP could not win the seat when the party was cruising to a landslide victory in May 2011 and gaining Labour seats the length and breadth of the land then no matter how the good the candidate they certainly weren’t going to win it last night.
Indeed when discussing the by-election to a non political friend on the bus home last night, she asked me how I thought it would go I said that considering this was a Labour seat it would more than likely remain a Labour seat with an increased majority for a combination of reasons the first and most important of which was the one listed above.
The next fact I pointed out was that the circumstances of a by-election can go a long way to deciding the result of it. Therefore since this particular contest was held due to the tragic circumstances of the death of a hard working and popular MSP because make no mistake Helen Eadie was both was bound to play in Labour’s favour. I illustrate this point by saying that a number of Labour voters who may have been considering switching to the SNP would be far less likely to do so than for example if the sitting MP had been forced to resign over an expenses scandal or some other criminal act. This makes it easier for the incumbent party to retain the seat as some people would wish to pay their respect to the memory of their former representative by voting for that party and giving the new candidate a chance to fill their boots.
The next fact which needs to be factored in when examining this result is that this by-election was held at the midway point of a second term SNP Government gives the opposition an advantage to position themselves as the party of change who can show you the way to the promised land. In reality however this doesn’t stack up. It is my considered opinion that Labour are being given a free ride by their friends in the press and media even those who would normally be extremely unsympathetic to their aims.
This is due in no small part to their opposition to Scottish independence. However I caution them to beware false friends who once they have used them for their own vested interested political ends will drop them from a very great height and their manufactured courtship will end in bitter tears.
This fact may be inconvenient for the Labour Party but it is not inaccurate to suggest that should the press and media achieve their agenda of a servile Scotland staying in the union they will then turn their guns on them and recommence their previous love in with the SNP using the argument that with independence out of the way for a generation or so they would like to believe, that Scotland needs a strong voice to represent in our interests in the UK and that strong voice is more likely to be found in an SNP led by Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon or Humza Yousaf than it is in a Labour Party led by Johann Lamont who whilst she may be excellent at the negative moaning of the traditional unionist whinge variety would not quite be so useful at offering a vision of what she or her party could do to change Scotland for the better.
The low turn out at the by-election may also have an impact on the result as many SNP voters may have stayed at home due to the fact they perceived that Labour were going to hold the seat and therefore they would abstain on this occasion. It is reasonably well documented fact that the SNP tend to do better when the turnout gets above 40 per cent. There was also no particular issue which could be used against Labour in this area as there have been in by-elections in which they have been more successful. In contrast to this the Labour Party used what it views as the potential threat of independence of the uncertainty they believe this can cause to maximum effect and there is no doubt that this was important not only in the fact it shored up their core vote but it also gained votes from other pro union parties who may have wished to send the SNP Government a message that they disapproved of independence and were going to vote no in the coming referendum.
So when you factor in the variables in this result, it is perhaps not surprising that SNP had a disappointing night. I would however caution the die hard unionists in Labour ranks that though they may celebrate their success last night the SNP have had far better by-election results with far bigger swings than the 11 per cent achieved last night and still not made progress they believed they would at the following election. I cite Jim Sillars famous victory in the Govan by election and my current MSP John Mason’s political earthquake in the 2008 Glasgow East by election as useful examples of this
Therefore though it may be nice for Labour to talk up their chances of winning the next Scottish Parliamentary election I still think this dream is long way from reality. After all they were achieving similar results in parliamentary and council by-elections when Iain Gray was apparently according to those and such as those First Minister elect and we all know what happened when Scotland went to the polls in May 2011. Just lets say a similar result in September and in the first post referendum would suit me fine and I believe we are on target to achieve those results.
On watching the coverage of the by-election I have to say I thought of a song of I know. The song by Frankie Valli and the four seasons was a hit from the 1970’s and it summed up Labour’s attitude to holding a seat which realistically they should never really lose. Its title was Let’s hang on to what we’ve got and that was exactly what they did. However I think I need to warn the comrades that though we can all enjoy songs from the past such as the one I’ve mentioned we really need to face the fact they can often end in tears and in years to come it may be that Labour face more Cowden grief at this result than their defeated opponents.
Talking, about their opponents I actually believe the result was more significant for the parties who were the also rans in this contest than it was Labour or the Nationalists. I justify this by saying that whilst their results went roughly as most of us expected the same can’t be said for other players in this drama. This is especially true for the Liberal Democrats who had a nightmare of a result despite having a good candidate, so to lose their deposit and in finish in fifth place was a disaster for the party who finished behind UKIP for the first time in any Scottish by-election. I have to say even as someone who is more naturally sympathetic to their Nationalist opponents I was devastated for their young candidate and her team of dedicated constituency workers.
As for the Conservatives a respected local candidate and experienced local councillor earned them a respectable third place increasing both their vote and vote share. So it can be claimed it was a good night for the Scottish Conservatives and it’s the first time they have been able to say that for a very long time. I have to say however that despite their best by-election result in recent years, they are still a long way off any kind of recovery. No doubt the optimists amongst their ranks will say they are gradually improving the delivery of their message and if they are right then I believe this is in no small part due to the fact that in Ruth Davidson they have an articulate intelligent woman with a vision for Scotland even if it is a vision which I will disagree with 90 per cent of the time. Well I’m sure if spoke long enough there are some positions where we could find agreement as the First Minister said on the night of the SNP landslide victory ‘no party has the monopoly on wisdom’.
Though the First Minister applied the indicate his willingness to co-operate with other parties, it is my belief that the quote also applies to individuals and it is one those individuals in Councillor Dave Dempsey who seems to have to some small extent rebuilt a bit of that trust with the voters of Cowdenbeath. However the night belongs to Labour and in particular to Alex Rowley, and my congratulations go to him though I will remind him he has big boots to fill and time alone will tell us if he is up to the task of doing so.
Love And Best Wishes