Friday 21 June 2013

A Bad Result for Everybody

Bit of a strange afternoon as everybody else here has gone off to see one of the staff getting married leaving me to hold the fort but, with no clients, little or nothing to do.

So I thought I might as well rattle off a wee Friday blog about the Donside by-election. Which, in my opinion was a bad result for all the major Parties involved.

I say all the major Parties because I can't really comment on how the Scottish Christian Party feel about their 222  votes, you'd need to ask them.

To the more serious players however, in reverse order.

First, the non-runner. Where was the SSP? There was indeed no ultra-left candidate, presumably because they didn't have the resources. Or perhaps they were too busy being an "important" part of the Yes Scotland coalition.

And then to those who did, at least, start.

Everybody seemed, out of politeness, just to ignore what was an appalling result for the Greens, much closer to the self same Scottish Christian Party than to any of the proper also rans. I do struggle to explain this. The Greens seem to me to  be the only Party with a really distinctive current policy offering for the Parliament and many of their ideas seem to me to have support at least among liberal middle class opinion. It's probably fair to say that all the other Parties think, in equity, that they ought to do better. But they don't . One for Patrick Harvie to explain. He may also have to explain to his chums in Yes Scotland what exactly he's bringing to their party.  It certainly doesn't seem to be votes

Which brings me to the new kids on the block, UKIP. This was a problem of expectation. Their 1,128     votes certainly kills off the idea that they are completely irrelevant in Scotland, unless that same argument is to be deployed against the Greens, but if it was to be a platform on which to build it is a pretty ramshackle one. Given their success elsewhere, again the question however must be why? There is undoubtedly some truth in the assertion that they have allowed themselves to be portrayed as an exclusively English Party and that such a perception is toxic in Scottish politics. That remains the Tories major problem. But it is surely also that if you, as a Donside voter, were inclined to a distaste for foreigners, uncosted policy promises and populist leadership then there was another, more obvious, recipient for your vote.

Then we have the Tories. Started third. Finished fourth. Enough said.

And so on to the Libs. At first glance they might be the only ones with a justifiable claim to real progress. An increased vote share and an improved place. Except that the increase was only on that vote achieved in the annus horribilis of 2011 and still only to 8.3%. This is an area where the traditional Liberal support was c.15%. Still, I fear, a long way to go.

Thus to the final two. I can do the old "great result" spin. Increased share, 9% swing, "one of the SNP's safest seats" etc etc. All true. But its also true that people rarely remember who came second. And I think there is something that needs to be said about that. Labour now chooses Westminster Parliamentary by-election candidates with considerable care. Emma Lewell-Buck, the local social worker who held South Shields for us with ease in what could have been a difficult contest, was a perfect fit for the seat. But she wouldn't have been any fit at all in, for example, Cambridge.

Labour rushed into candidate selection in Donside and chose the person the Party would have liked to have been the MSP if the electorate hadn't been a feature. But the electorate were a feature and the choice of any local councillor was surely something that should have been given some more thought. It might not be fair, but people seldom have a good word for the Council anywhere. Labour can hardly be to blame for all the inadequacies perceived in Aberdeen Council,  not least since we've only recently returned to power. Nonetheless by choosing a councillor as the candidate we inevitably invited our opponents to seize on this, so that what was meant to be a contest about the direction of the Holyrood Parliament ended up focusing on the adequacy of a roundabout and the need or otherwise for some local school closures. That was never going to be favourable ground for us but we had invited our opponents on to it.

Further, any victory by us would inevitably have sought to rely on tactical anti-independence votes from Liberals and, I don't mind admitting, even some Tories. The least likely magnet for that would be a tribalist Labour Candidate. Nothing wrong with Labour tribalists, I'm one myself but to continue my racing metaphor, you need the right horse for a particular course. These decisions are too important to be taken by local activists, in a hurry and without some assistance in the responsibility of their decision making. Hopefully that's a lesson learnt.

And so to the victors, the spoils. The reason this was a bad result for the Nationalists wasn't really the fact that they lost a quarter of their vote share. It's mid term and it seems common ground that Brian Adam had a significant personal vote. No, the reason it was a bad result for the SNP was that in order to hold on to what was their eleventh safest seat they nonetheless had to disavow the suggestion that voting for them had anything to do with Independence. Voters were encouraged  to support them as a mark of respect to Brian Adam; to keep the Council; Tax freeze and indeed to do something (never really quite explained what) about this bloody roundabout. All very well, except that if they couldn't sell separation in their eleventh safest seat then it hardly bears out the "secret private polling" boasted of by Yes Scotland. Sure, the Referendum is still a year away but the "plenty of time" argument is beginning to wear a bit thin. And getting thinner.

But there was a final reason this was a bad result for everybody and that is the turnout. 38%. Never mind any implications for what that means for a country allegedly in political ferment over independence, it is surely a worry for politicians of all parties that 62% of Donside voters apparently couldn't care less about who represents them in the Scottish Parliament. This was at times a close contest, so there's not even the excuse that "everybody" knew what the result would be that sometimes excuses low turnouts in foregone conclusion seats.

What can be done about that? Perhaps for a start we should stop talking down the Parliament's powers and responsibilities. But perhaps also we need a somewhat bolder politics.


  1. In a blog focusing on the also ran's you still managed to leave out the Scottish Democratic Alliance with it's 35 votes. It may not seem that significant but that is about as many votes as party members for a party standing it's first candidate. The way the media and the 'major' parties squeezed out the small fry shows a real democratic deficiency too. Who has even heard of the SDA? Even you couldn't even be bothered to include us and you should. The SDA has operated as a think tank since 2009 and has perhaps the best if still unknown thinking on what we need to do in an independent Scotland. Even the SNP are not ready for this in their thinking. You owe it to yourselves to get informed on the SDA

  2. There is one party that this was a bad result for and that Labour.

    With all this talk about a good result for Labour (loosing is a good result?) it worth reflecting on the fact that even though the SNP vote was down, only 174 of these voters thought that the Labour party was worth voting for.

    So no matter the reason these voters did not vote for the SNP this time, complacency or for whatever, the fact that they could not bring themselves to vote Labour in a mid term election, which is the usual time for protest votes, speaks volumes about where the Labour vote is in Scotland today.

    Are the 7789 votes Labour got last night all thats left of their core vote?

  3. But it is surely also that if you, as a Donside voter, WERE INCLINED TO A DISTASTE FOR FOREIGNERS, uncosted policy promises and populist leadership then there was another, more obvious, recipient for your vote.

    Like these:-

    "Apart from meaning that your friends in Wales, your family in England and your workmates from Northern Ireland will, effectively and overnight, become foreigners..." Alistair Darling

    “My son, for example, who went to university in England, I think I’d be uncomfortable with the thought that he’s now a foreigner.” Margaret Curran

    “In simple terms, why make Sir Alex Ferguson a foreigner?” Johann Lamont

    "The thought that my mother would suddenly be a foreigner would upset me very much.” Tony Benn

    "But the Aberdeen schoolgirl said she and her friends were going to vote to remain part of the UK because they did not want their relatives in England to become foreigners"
    The Daily Telegraph on Iona McDonald's adress to the Scottish Labour Conference.

    1. It may suit some to constantly construe the word foreigner in its pejorative context, so perhaps try the words "foreign national" in the above quotes instead?

  4. Oh dear.

    "A distaste for foreigners"?

    Remind us, Ian, if you're not too far gone already - when Mark McDonald decided to stand, who replaced him as SNP list MSP?

    1. Aye, and I'm sure UKIP's candidate Otto Inglis helped sate this distaste for foreigners as well!

      And is there anyone in Scottish politics capable of NOT conflating anti-immigrant with anti-immigration, or would recognising that particular nuance simply not fit the narrative?

  5. A good piece Ian thanks.

    'Where was the SSP? '

    Yes a complete irrelevance now. As for Solidarity. .

    'Then we have the Tories. Started third. Finished fourth. Enough said.'

    Yes again - as MacWhirter says the Tories are the main losers (of the real parties) in this one.

    'an appalling result for the Greens'

    Yes again. At this rate Ukip will take their two seats. The slide into oblivion of the SSP is explicable - still not sure why the Greens have also become liminal, they have some great councillors, eg Martha Wardroup in Glasgow.

    Worth noting that the swing to Labour was mirrored in the council by-elections - the SNP will argue this is normal for mid-term British elections of course.

  6. "Scottish UKIP" has a distaste for more than "foreigners" it seems. Wasn't it their present Scottish President, Lord Monckton, who once wrote "The Scots are subsidy junkies whingeing like a trampled bagpipe as they wait for their next fix of English taxpayers' money"? Monckton's contempt for his fellow Scots is almost as great as your own, Ian, though at least he does not predict violent attacks on non-Scots after independence.
    As you are well aware this was a good result for the SNP; a mid-term by-election in an old Labour seat after the death of a popular local MSP should have handed Labour victory on a plate. Instead, the SNP out-performed them at every turn. Labour's problem is that it no longer inspires even their own activists (the turnout of party workers in Donside was lamentable and the "organisation" worse than useless) and they no longer have a significant core support, even in Scotland. Your claim that, somehow, the SNP managed to dupe the voters into thinking they are not the party of Scottish independence is laughable; 21st century Labour's steady transition into Tories Lite was an open goal which beckoned too welcomingly to be ignored.