Tuesday, 1 January 2008

The perils, the perils

I have been chastised, perhaps even berated, by SNP activists over my previous post identifying the seats the SNP would win on an assumed straight swing on the scale shown in the recent polls. Why? Well, some of them were saying "wheesht, laddie, dinna tell them we're coming for them", and others were saying "hoi, we're winning over here too". You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you'll never get an easy ride as a nationalist.

Two comments stood out though, and I've taken those points on board - it really is worth laying out some of the local circumstances which will affect the next election. Where we've won Holyrood constituencies the hard work of those SNP MSPs will stand in stark contrast to the pallid efforts of the previous incumbents (Falkirk West is excluded from that) and of the current Westminster incumbent where that incumbent is not an SNP member, so there may be some large shifts in voter preference that wouldn't be picked up on by a national swing.

That leaves some questions to be asked like is the Tricia Marwick effect in Central Fife enough to make the difference in the Westminster seat of Glenrothes, overturn a 10,664 majority and oust John MacDougall (I don't believe I've seen anything of that fella since he got elected)? Judging by the way that Fife SNP has got the bit between its teeth, the wind in its sails, the spark in its engine (and many other cliches that all mean the same thing) I think that it's a possibility. If you want to know how much of a possibility you can try dragging that out of Tricia - I don't fancy your chances of getting information out of her unless she wants to give it to you, but you're welcome to try.

Argyll and Bute - coming from fourth place, but it's in on the swingometer and this is Jim Mather's patch - seeing the Lib Dems trying to catch him will be like watching Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner. Falkirk - Michael Matheson will be beavering away and he's got a decent team around him and it's a case of removing the galloping Major, so that's in the SNP's favour as well.

Livingstone - the campaign's so driven that Angela Constance has decided she needs to breed new activists to take some of the strain - even though the campaign has people like Uncle Fester driving it. The opponent is the far from divine Jim, so it's all in our favour.

I have no idea what's going on in Glasgow, so someone else can tell us. Gordon is surrounded by SNP seats and has a young upstart nationalist as MSP - can't remember his name just now - so that should be fine.

The other point worth making is about the collapse of the Labour party's organisation in the aftermath of May's election. It's true that Labour had forgotten how to campaign because the outcome of the internal troubles they had in the 1980s and 1990s was the abandonment of principle in favour of the pursuit of power, but their troubles now run, perhaps, even deeper.

Losing power in Scotland for the first time in 50 years was bound to be traumatic, but the opportunities were there in the summer for Labour to regroup and refresh the party and come back stronger and with some sense of purpose, some sense of what they want to do, but that would have required some level of debate about the direction they wanted to take collectively. Instead of taking that opportunity the party that sees a clunking fist as a virtue stamped its collective feet in a collective tantrum then refused to have a leadership election, preferring instead to fling rose petals at the feet of a once favoured candidate.

That opportunity lost, Labour could still have pulled through and taken a longer path back towards significance, but that would have required surefooted leadership and a determination to develop intelligent policy and a coherent philosophy. The poor preparation, lack of underpinning research and petulant delivery in Parliament knocked any of those hopes on the head. I'm told that the resulting bad feeling has poisoned the Labour party and the organisation is in such a parlous state that some long-standing members are questioning whether there is any seat in Scotland that could be described as a safe Labour seat - even the support from full-time union officials is fading away.

There's the real possibility that Labour could be looking at losing seats all over the country to whichever party makes the best running in that seat in the campaign. Their saving grace could, bizarrely, be the collapse of their continuing coalition partners the Lib Dems, those votes garnered by the Lib Dems as a result of the free publicity they got in a governing coalition will now be going all over the place, with the possibility that Labour might pick up one or two, and the fall-off in the Lib Dem vote means that they will not be challenging in any current Labour seats and the distribution of their former supporters could keep a split in the anti-Labour vote in many seats where Labour would otherwise have fallen. The question will be whether any single party will be able to garner that vote and deliver it in seats like Edinburgh South, Lanark and Hamilton East, and Aberdeen South among others.

Unless Labour sorts out its problems in the next couple of months and re-engages with its own members it may be facing a long and unforgiving slide, shedding elected representatives and party members along the way, and ending in the kind of doldrums the Conservatives encountered in 1997. Far-fetched? There was a time when you would have doubted that it could have happened to Scotland's Tories.

In the SNP there is still a heart beating, we have maintained our historic sense of mission - a sense which I am told is palpable at our conferences but absent at others - and we continue to work to improve our country. For so long as we remember that we are in politics to change and improve our country and the lot of the people who live here and we're not here in pursuit of power for its own ends we will have an advantage over those who have forgotten why they entered politics in the first place.

Here endeth the homily


Anonymous said...

Calum, With the excellent campaign manager I have (Christina McKelvie MSP - I think you've met her!) - I reckon we could both be looking for a London residence in the near future.
Cllr Graeme Horne, Candidate for Rutherglen & Hamilton West.

BTW - Like the blog big man.

Calum Cashley said...

Rutherglen & Hamilton West? Easy victory I'm told ...

good luck with that campaign.