Friday 25 October 2013

Dunfermline digested

My  Report from the front line last Sunday stands up pretty well in light of the final result.

The only real error was in miscalculating how the Libs would do. although amidst what was a poor poor result for them, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, even then, they still beat the Tories.

I  was also perhaps a little pessimistic about the turnout, although all Parties should pause to think a bit about describing 42.75% as " better than expected".

Now, as a supporter of the People's Party, I should, on one view, just sit back and bask in what was a (reasonably) good result but I have to say I have  pretty substantial reservations about just doing that.

What exactly was the Labour message? Essentially that our candidate was personable enough and lived locally, that we were a bit more generally organised than 2011 and that we were opposed to Scottish Independence which, everybody on both sides knows, is really not very popular . And, surprise surprise, that was enough to win in Dunfermline as no doubt it would have been had the by-election been in Paisley or Clydebank or Airdrie or Cathcart or any number of other seats that we should never have lost in the first place.

But the problem is that we lost these seats in 2011 from the already losing position of 2007. We could get them all back, more or less, in 2016 and, unless the Libs experience a recovery that would astonish even Lazarus, it is difficult to see how that would lead to (even a minority) Labour Administration.

And, by 2016, we won't even have two of the three cards that we played in Dunfermline. Personable local candidates are all very well but they do not per se provide the material from which to form a Government and unless the Nats decided on a collective suicide pact around "having another go", by 2016 Independence won't be on anybody's (immediate) agenda. Indeed on both these points, objectively, the Nationalists could even be strengthened by 2016. They will still have the same technocratically competent Ministerial team, perhaps even improved by the departure of some of their old guard "their life's work failed" and the removal of the Marmite figure of Alex Salmond. They will also have the card they always hold of being seen to be best placed to "stand up for Scotland". It's all very well for us (and the Libs and the Tories) to protest that this is either completely meaningless or, if it is not, is equally true of all Scottish political parties. Just as any amount of wishful thinking by the SNP won't make Independence any more popular, no amount of wishful thinking by us will ever deprive the SNP of that "patriotic" advantage in the context of a purely Scottish election.

No, if Labour wants to get back in 2016 we need to have a policy offer and nothing in Dunfermline indicated that we are any closer to that.

I might write more about this at the weekend but for the moment I will finish with a football analogy. Diehard football fans like to see their team play attractive football but not if the price paid for that is to get beat. So for those ever loyal to the Labour cause the big thing in Dunfermline was to win. And we certainly got our result. More occasional supporters however place a greater premium on entertainment. And if, week in week out, they are not enjoying the product then they eventually find something else to do on a Saturday afternoon. Even if the team is winning.

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