Monday, June 30, 2008

A Tricky By-Election

The news that there will soon be a by-election in Glasgow East has sent many of my political friends into a frenzy of excitement.

On the face of it this is a rock-solid Labour seat. The last majority was 13,507 and the SNP need a 22% swing to capture it. Normally a swing of that magnitude would be just that little bit impossible at a General Election - but by-elections are something different. The expectation, given Labour's woes, will surely be that the SNP will pull off a stunning victory.

But it won't be that easy - rumours are swirling that the candidate will be Elaine C. Smith. Where does that leave the already selected candidate Lachie MacNeill. And if Lachie MacNeill is the candidate - does he have the experience, knowledge and abilities for such a high-profile campaign? I don't know Lachie so wouldn't like to say but it tends to be that the best candidate to put up a good fight in an unwinnable seat is not always be the best person to take it on to win it in the spotlight of a media frenzy. Will Elaine C. Smith - a woman whose own "Chairities and Politics" page on her website doesn't mention independence go down well with the local members?

As for Labour - they really are in trouble. Anything except a win for them will be a disaster. Everyone knows that, but do they have the stomach for such a battle? Or will the campaign for a new Scottish leader overshadow everything else?

And the Conservatives? Well everyone knows they won't win Glasgow East. In 2005 their share of the vote was 6.9%. The campaign team from Crewe and Henley won't be troubling themselves on the doors of the East End. But the last story that David Cameron wants is the wheels coming off the election machine which is doing so well. A squeezed vote and lost deposit (likely outcome surely?) will mean that one story to come out of the by-election is that the Conservatives are still unwelcome in Scotland, that the Crewe vote wasn't a sign of making genuine and sustainable progress in Labour's heartlands - it was nothing more than a protest vote. If Labour lose they will want to deflect some of the pain, and this will be the easiest (and cheapest) way to do it. So the Conservatives will be looking to hold their share of the vote - or even increase it - and probably overtake the Lib Dems for third place. And the Lib Dems? Well they will want to stop the rot of Crewe and Henley so I imagine there will be an interesting - if irrelevant - scrap for third place.

If Labour win, even by the tiniest majority, it will be touted as a major success and defeat for the SNP. If the SNP win it will undoubtedly be a great victory but will it come at cost of upset members? The Conservatives could see a grinding halt to their relentless march to the next general election and the Lib Dems could just slide further into obscurity.

Its a tricky by-election for every party which of course should make for great viewing for those of us not involved.