I was in Dunfermline today.
There are only two places in Dunfermline with which I am remotely familiar: The Sheriff Court and East End Park. Professionally I am a rare visitor to the former and thanks to the travails of the football club I have regrettably not been a recent visitor to the latter. My memory was that Dunfermline was further away than it actually is and having reached there from Kilsyth in well under an hour I feel rather ashamed that I have not been a more frequent visitor to what has become By-Election City.
Nonetheless, having been, it would be appropriate for me to file a report from the front line.
It is only right that I say these observations are based more on conversations in the Labour Committee rooms than any great feeling on the street.
In the morning (Sunday morning) my activities were confined entirely and understandably to delivering literature. I met a single voter and hailed him with the immemorial “I trust we can count on your support?" To which he replied “I've just come outside for a cigarette” as if he feared being mistaken for the mythical elector who spontaneously rushes out to embrace his Party’s representative on the street.
In the afternoon we did a knock up in a village just outside the town to hand out pledge cards to those who were already identified as our supporters. In so far as they were in at all, these people were voting Labour. But then we knew that already. As to whether, where I was, their number should have been more or less than it was I simply have no idea. As I’ve already said, I was in Fife, a place that was not as far away as I thought it was but still beyond any informed knowledge of mine. In terms that local activists in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth of all Parties will understand, the Labour identifiers would have been brilliant for Banton but terrible for Croy. Or in Paisley terms, brilliant for Glenburn but terrible for Shortroods.
But what then was the feeling in the Labour Rooms?
After Donside, I wrote a blog suggesting the result was bad news for everybody. This time the feeling is that it might be qualified good news for everybody.
First, us. We look like winning and if, as I observed after Donside, winning is everything, winning in Dunfermline will be important.
I won’t bother with the “but” for it is implied in what follows.
Second, the SNP. Their vote won’t collapse as we had hoped and as “liberal” opinion might have expected to have been their due for having chosen a known domestic abuser as their previous representative and thus, once the rest of us found out what they had known all along, triggering the by-election in the first place. This is important. There is a significant section of the electorate, aside from Independence true believers, who are still not impressed with Labour’s ability to “stand up for Scotland”. If we don’t turn that round by May 2016 then we won’t be back in power. Perhaps we should commission a report from Rhodri Morgan.
Third, the Libs. Ages ago I had a row with a Liberal-Democrat (otherwise) pal over my assertion that they were really no more than a “neither of the above” Party. And, do you know, he may have been right and I may have been wrong. For in May 2011, despite the coalition travails, 20% of Dunfermline’s voters “still” voted Liberal-Democrat. At the start of this campaign both us and the Nats saw these voters as easy pickings. They’ve not been. They may indeed be actual Liberal-Democrats. Comfortably off but with a social conscience. Jings.
And then finally we have the Tories. They have clearly got the best candidate (except, of course, for our own most excellent candidate) but more to the point he (the Tory) might be, I think, the likely beneficiary of a renewed wider confidence. Every other opinion in this blog had to be canvassed by me but, spontaneously, two people volunteered to me that they agreed with my thoughts last week that a (minor) Scottish Tory revival might be under way. We’ll see. They’ve only got 7% but I suspect they may hang on to that.
As for the rest. UKIP will beat the Greens senseless but the Greens days in the sun (or Calton Hill) had already been seen off in Perth this weekend past. The Trots didn’t stand and the Jacobite Candidate will, once again I fear, find himself on the way to Skye disguised in women’s clothing.
So that’s my call. Except for one final and important point. On my way back in the morning I undertook a tour of the town. This was not engaged upon for any political purpose but rather because I got lost and couldn’t find the Sheriff Court or the Football Stadium from which to get my bearings back to the Labour Rooms.
But on that tour, albeit at a Sunday lunchtime, I hardly encountered a place in the midst of a political ferment. Not a single householder had a poster for any Party in their window or garden. Nothing reassured me that Thursday’s turnout would be anything but derisory.
In so far as there is a crisis in our politics it is not a constitutional crisis but a democratic one. A crisis of disengagement. And against that background I fear that on Thursday coming, while we are all winners, we will all be losers as well.