Unionist parties lose votes as SNP looks to 2012


by a Newsnet reporter 

Analysis of all eleven local authority by-elections since the May 2011 Scottish Parliament elections shows the momentum behind the SNP has continued since the party’s historic Holyrood victory with voters backing SNP candidates in local by-elections across Scotland.

by a Newsnet reporter

Analysis of all eleven local authority by-elections since the May 2011 Scottish Parliament elections shows the momentum behind the SNP has continued since the party’s historic Holyrood victory with voters backing SNP candidates in local by-elections across Scotland.

With the SNP enjoying continued success in the Oban North and Lorn ward in Argyll and Bute on Friday the analysis of the combined vote in all the by-elections which have taken place since May’s election show significant swings of 3.46% from Labour, 4.84% from the Conservatives and an extraordinary 7.25% from the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP has gained two seats in the eleven by-elections held since the elections and seen its support increase by more than 9% since the last Local Authority Elections.

The results will worry strategists within the Unionist parties as all have struggled to reassert themselves since May.  The three UK parties are all facing serious problems of organisation and have proven unable to adapt to an SNP majority government.  

The analysis of the results of by-elections so far during this Parliament will be of greatest concern to the Liberal Democrats, who face the real prospect of significant losses within their traditional rural heartlands where the SNP is now making a strong showing.  The party has attracted the oppobrium of many Scottish voters for its coalition deal with the Conservatives in Westminster.  

This week an attempt by the Lib Dems to regain the initiative by announcing plans to hold an enquiry into “Home Rule”, which the party assured us was quite different from “devo max” in unspecified ways, was overshadowed by a spectacular gaffe by Scottish party leader Willie Rennie.  On the day that party veteran Menzies Campbell announced the launch of the Lib Dem’s “Home Rule” plans, Mr Rennie allowed his Facebook page to carry an offensive image of First Minister Alex Salmond.  Mr Rennie was quickly forced to apologise.

Labour is currently facing a leadership election with an uninspiring selection of candidates and the apparent reluctance of the party’s ‘big hitters’ to involve themselves with Scottish politics.  The party has acknowledged that it must learn from the mistakes it made, but appears unable to move away from its instinctive negativity.  

In a speech to the Labour party’s special conference in Glasgow last week,  Margaret Curran MP, the shadow Scottish Secretary of State, said that the party had to accept some “difficult truths” and that it was facing a “crossroads”.  However Ms Curran did not detail the “difficult truths”, far less did she suggest ways of addressing them.  Ms Curran said that Labour had been taught a hard lesson, “but the time for self reflection and introspection is over.”  She then went on to spend the bulk of her speech attacking the SNP.

The Labour leadership election is taking place against the backdrop of a rancorous system of re-selection of candidates for next year’s council elections.  In Glasgow, some disaffected councillors have threatened legal action against their own party.  

There are deep divisions within the party.  Relations between the party’s Holyrood and Westminster members are marked by mutual mistrust and suspicion.  Tom Harris, the sole Westminster MP to step forward for the post of Scottish leader, was unable to find a single Holyrood MSP to support his candidacy until moments before the official registration period ended.

Labour faces a declining and demoralised membership.  In many districts the party no longer has an effective presence on the ground, and is forced to bus in activists from elsewhere.  Following their electoral wipe-out in May, many observers consider that the party’s Holyrood benches are short on talent and experience.   

Many within the party fear that Labour will lose control of a large number of councils next May.  Even once impregnable strongholds like Glasgow may fall to their SNP rivals, which would be a devastating blow to Labour’s self-esteem.

Fresh from a bad-tempered leadership contest, during which the party debated whether it had a future, the Conservatives have narrowly decided to continue as before.  New leader Ruth Davidson has signalled her desire to continue with the same message but to “try harder”.  

With only a few months’ experience as a member of the Scottish Parliament, she now faces the uneviable task of uniting a party where prominent supporters of her leadership bid have publicly stated there could be no place in the Conservative party for her defeated rival, Murdo Fraser, and his supporters.  Mr Fraser’s supporters include the great majority of Conservative MSPs.

With every by-election since May showing a swing to the SNP, the Nationalists are the only party with reason to feel positive about the 2012 council elections.  However the party has learned that success cannot be taken for granted.  Commenting on the analysis SNP Local Authority Campaign Manager Derek Mackay MSP said:

“These are solid results for the SNP showing that our momentum continues since the May elections.

“Compared to our the 2007 local government result, which was a previous high water mark for the SNP, support is higher – and with the local council elections taking place in six months the support of the public for SNP councillors and candidates is a very encouraging sign.

“Our positive message and positive vision for the future has been backed by people across Scotland. The electorate have chosen to put faith and trust into the SNP because the SNP has faith and trust in them.

“People like what the SNP is doing. In local communities and across the country we have delivered on the issues that matter to people – support for the economy and jobs, free prescriptions, 1000 extra police and a council tax freeze – real action with real results.

“In Government and in councils we will continue to work hard to make Scotland better and repay the trust given to us.”