10 September 2013

Are the SNP due a Dunfermline drubbing?

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. Bill Walker is clearly no devotee of Shakespeare, and in resigning his Dunfermline seat a few days ago, he didn't heed Macbeth's advice about the charms of celerity.  But resign the villain finally has, and under the Scotland Act, we'll have a by-election in his Fife constituency within the next three months.  

So what are the chances? Who's in with a shout? And from the SNP perspective, critically, are we going to get stuffed? Let's take a look at the data.

Riding on the coattails of the national party, in 2011, Bill Walker won the seat with 37.6% of the vote, beating the Labour candidate Alex Rowley by 590 votes. Reflecting the mood in much of the rest of the country, the notional incumbent's support went through the floor, Liberal Democrat Jim Tolson polling just 5,776 votes to the winning 11,010 secured by the SNP.  So much we know, but it is also instructive to look forward and backwards from 2011. The party is still polling rather well nationally against Lamont's Labour. But, but...

In the Council elections of 2012, after the accusations against Walker first surfaced but before his trial and conviction, SNP candidates won 5,814 first preferences votes compared Labour's 9,524 in the four Dunfermline wards which the constituency completely covers. The Liberal Democrats trundled in next, with just 3,341 first preferences.  The constituency also takes in parts of The Lochs ward on Fife Council - but Labour won that too, comfortably, snaring 1,729 first preferences to the Nats' 708.  Obviously, the dynamics of the local elections are different from national elections, and different again from a by-election.  For all that, however, these can only be promising figures for the Labour Party in the area. 

Putting the 2011 result in broader context, between 1999 and before 2011, Dunfermline was bifurcated into two distinct constituencies, East and West.  The new seat takes in the the old West constituency, and part of the East, the result of which is now represented by Helen Eadie, as Cowdenbeath.  Going into the 2011 Holyrood election, the Liberal Democrat, Jim Tolson, sat for the western constituency.  As we all now know, in 2011 the SNP came from a notion third place in the seat, behind the Labour party, to take it. To add another layer of complexity to proceedings, the Liberal actually snatched the seat from Labour in 2007, who had held it since 1999. 

Now, I'm no Fifer, and don't know this territory well, but figures lead me to conclude that - at the best of times, in a favourable national election with a tolerably popular SNP government and a suitably incompetent Labour opposition - defending and retaining Dunfermline might prove a tall order for the Nationalists.  Liberal Democrat fortunes have not, and may never, fully revive in the area. The Labour Party may not have the springy vitality of an excitable Cocker spaniel, but if I was a Scottish strategist in John Smith House, Dunfermline would already be circled on the electoral map, as low-hanging fruit.  Even without the scandal of a Nationalist parliamentarian being revealed as a domestic tyrant and unlawfully handy with his fists.

Arguably, the party's poor showing in the area in 2012 is as nothing to the reception we can hope to receive in this by-election.  At that time, Bill Walker was suspected, but innocent until proven guilty. Today, the luckless and brave SNP candidate will have to contend with press hostility, and most likely, an electorate none-too-enamoured with the party which nominated such a goon for election in their constituency.  You needn't subscribe to the idea that there was any jiggery-pokery in the way the party dealt with the Walker case to see that he will hang around the neck of the Nationalist candidate like the Old Man of the Sea, however vigorously or acidly they denounce him in public.  This is one for Nationalists to take on the chin.  Anything short of a drubbing would be a relief. 

As the erstwhile Labour blogger Stuart MacLellan noted a few years back, Labour has never actually won a seat back from the SNP, having lost it. If they can't heave themselves over the finish line first in this Dunfermline by-election, a disgraced Nationalist incumbent having been forcibly pitchforked from party and office after twenty-four criminal convictions and an outrageous display of contempt for his constituents, Scottish Labour really are jiggered.

Thanks, Bill. 

28 comments :

  1. I assume Stuart MacLellan meant only at Holyrood?

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    Replies
    1. I hold no brief for Stuart, but surely he did, yes. See further, Govan, Glasgow East, etcetera.

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  2. As a resident of the Auld Grey Toon,heres my hapenny worth.
    If Labour choose or if he puts himself forward as candidate,Cllr Bobby Clelland will walk it,hes a very well thought of cllr for Oakley,he polled the most 1st pref votes in Fife at the last election,and has built up a very good profile as a hardworking councilor,so my money would be on a Labour win.

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    Replies
    1. Yahoorsur,

      Interesting to hear a local perspective! They're not my bag, but I heard that the Labour frontrunner at the moment is Fiona Eadie, daughter of Helen. There's also some talk about an all woman shortlist on the Labour side.

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  3. any chance of a well known 'independent' candidate throwing his/her hat in the ring to make things interesting?

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    Replies
    1. tcollins,

      Always a chance! Did you have anybody specific in mind?

      Delete
  4. Almost exactly what I tweeted to Scotland Tonight last night. But with a few more words and some punctuation.

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    Replies
    1. Heh. That's my speciality. The more words. And the punctuation.

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  5. Labour in their Fife selection process have had a "Don't embarras Gordon" policy up until recently. We may have seen one or two local people who have the rug pulled out from under their feet throw in their hats, although I think the shortlist has already been drawn up, so maybe not.

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    Replies
    1. The usual local jiggerypokery! It does seem as if some wheeler-dealing is going on, as you'd expect. There's also the question of which luckless SNP candidate will stand...

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    2. Mmmmmmmmmmm it was the all women short list that was in existance, this has been scrapped. The newly opened list closed today. The chants of Leishman Leishman Leishman were be heard through the toon but will he take up the challenge?

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    3. Leishman being - correct me if I'm wrong - a local boy and former professional footballer? What's the allure? (beyond the obvious fact that, with my antipathy to "the beautiful game", I fail as a Scotsman...)

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    4. Dunfermline councillor, failed poet, so so manager and Labour Provost as well, plus it will stop a woman winning. Of course he migh like being a big fish in a small pool.
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-18102491

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    5. Failed poet *and* a Labour councillor. Is that not an unprecedented configuration of activities? I do, however, rather like his weskit...

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    6. Weskit bit too libdemmish for me.

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  6. Cool, did not mean to use that profile but it is one of my more intersting personas :-)

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  7. The Govan council by election is also worth keeping an eye on - Govan is traditionally good for shocks and there is an interesting list of candidates -

    http://news.stv.tv/west-central/238974-fourteen-candidates-for-glasgow-city-council-govan-by-election/

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    Replies
    1. And that too, Edwin.

      A michty eccentric and crowded field there. Christians, Commies, Fascists, eccentric erstwhile SNP supporters. Much the same as Dunfermline, realistically, Govan's a scrap between the SNP and Labour -- but as you say, you never know!

      The place has a reputation to maintain.

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    2. I remember when Sillars gubbed Labour so dramatically - the Labour guy was a SOGAT official (Sogat were once so powerful!) who was totally out of place. Brian Wilson was his minder - and was - miraculous to relate - very gracious in defeat, congratulating Sillars warmly.


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    3. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive...

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  8. According to the Scotsman all men have withdrawn from the race. The original Labour all women shortlist was hat shortlist was Cara Hilton, Lesley Laird and Fiona Yates, Hellen Eady's lassie.

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  9. Shirley-Anne Somerville
    http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2013/sep/snp-select-shirley-anne-somerville

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    Replies
    1. Good luck to her. Though I can't say I'm wild about the symbolism of Yes Scotland's Head of Communities buggering off for a party job at this stage in the independence campaign.

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