That Labour can hold a seat in a by-election brought about by the exposure of massive corruption and incompetence, in a constituency that has been ‘served’ by Labour for 74 years and by a Labour Govt for a decade, yet still faces some of the worst poverty, poor housing and deprivation in Western Europe is astonishing. That the SNP have failed to capture a seat in these circumstances is equally so.
The SNP put up a Shallow Hal candidate, a right-wing Opus Dei-ite who failed to deliver a vision or a policy platform and suffered as a result. David Kerr’s campaign crumbled under the negative attacks from Labour and the Unionist press, who’s best smear of the week seemed to be that Alex Salmond had taken someone for a pizza.
The SNP need desperately to create a vision beyond ‘independence’ that rises to the new challenge of the financial and environmental crises we face and presents a clear deliverable left-green alternative to Labour.
Turnout was down from 45% at the 2005 General Election to 33%, what we are seeing is the effective collapse of belief in the political system after the Westminster expenses fiasco and Labour resorting to attack-dog politics and churning out their core vote, a rump of less than 15% of the electorate in the constituency. Labour has become a regional party, stuck fast in the west coast where reality seems to have been suspended as party-loyalty has become a sort of secular religion.
SNP activists put a brave face on it saying: “There was one factor clearly similar to Glenrothes and that was the huge number of Labour activists imported from all over the UK. In fact, looking at the sea of red rosettes at the count ,the SNP may well have been outgunned on the ground. Labour at Glenrothes and at Glasgow North East was not going to take anything for granted, as they did at Glasgow East. Labour have had to fight furiously for their own very safe seat and this itself is a sea change in Scottish politics. It remains to be seen just for how long they can do this.”
Many commentators have mentioned the multiple deprivation in the area, but, as Alf Young mentioned on Newsnicht, many families have generations of benefit dependency and have such low and lowered expectations that is an ingrained part of the cultural landscape. This is the legacy of the Union and of Labour-Tory misrule. Today Labour and the Unionist parties can cling on to the warming truth that many people are feeling vulnerable in the face of recession and financial shocks, too frightened to take th e bold step of independence. They will have to ask themselves if this is a credible way to secure the Union, or if it will be enough to prevent the paternalist hand of David Camerons Etonian cabal seizing Downing Street?
As public realm politics collapses apart from the digerati, the commentariat, and the media classes the ground is open to professional political classes to ‘get out their vote’ as the majority lies disaffected disillusioned and disenfranchised. If the SNP can’t articulate a vision to defeat this rabble then the wider independence movement will have to emerge more clearly and show some leadership.
Two final thoughts. The BNP again failed. They have never saved their deposit at an election in Scotland and they never will, despite the mainstream medias obsessive promotion of them. Finally, where was Iain Gray? Jim Murphy seems to have completed replaced him.
We await the post-mortem into the role of the Unite union acting as political dogsbody for the Labour Party and the police investigation into electoral fraud and ‘personation’ at Alexandra Parade and Dennistoun polling stations.