Such has been the lamentable performance by Labour’s Iain Gray at the weekly First Ministers Questions session at Holyrood that some political hacks have given to describing the hapless Labour leader as the ‘Elmer Fudd’ of Scottish politics.
This week’s FMQ’s did nothing to dispel these views as we saw yet another miserable performance by Gray who unwittingly decided to focus on the economy in a vain attempt at landing a blow on Alex Salmond. Gray’s arguments quickly evaporated as the First Minister pointed to figures that showed Scotland had suffered less under the SNP than those South of the border had under Labour.
‘Elmer’ ended his series of questions with a bizarre rant; repeatedly accusing the First Minister of “losing it” he produced his ‘trump card’ by pointing to Willie Bain, the Labour victor in the recent Glasgow NE by-election, who was sat in the Holyrood public gallery.
I’m not sure if Bain’s constituents appreciated the fact that ‘Oor Wullie’ had decided that a petty stunt took precedence over the plight of his constituents but the Labour MSP’s certainly did as they turned and broke into rapturous cheering and applause.
Given that Iain Gray had earlier accused the First Minister of being “all talk and no trousers”, the spectacle of Salmond being confronted by first a ‘Fudd’ then a ‘Willie’ seemed rather appropriate.
The new MP was graciously welcomed by Salmond and indeed the entire SNP contingent as they responded with gentle and dignified applause.
This rather neatly allows Newsnet Scotland to look back at the Glasgow NE by-election result and perhaps suggest that the resultant euphoria exhibited by Labour and some media commentators has obscured a rather interesting facet hidden amongst the voting figures.
The line being pushed by the media and Labour is that they not only defeated the SNP but that they ‘thumped’ them. More importantly, Labour also increased their share of the vote – up by 6% to 59%. Indeed, respected political commentator Gerry Hassan described Labour as having achieved a 1.89% swing from the SNP.
Taken at face value the Glasgow NE figures appear to support these claims that Labour have found a winning formula and are now addressing the trend of voters moving to the SNP and away from themselves.
However, let’s examine the by-election result in more detail:
The previous 2005 election saw Labour’s Michael Martin stand as Speaker of the House of Commons and attract 53% of the vote. However, what hasn’t been mentioned is that in that same election the name ‘Labour’ did not appear alongside Michael Martin’s name.
Below is how Labour’s Michael Martin appeared on the 2005 election ballot paper:
MARTIN Michael John 27 Smeaton Drive Speaker Seeking
Note ‘Speaker Seeking Re-election’, no mention of Labour. In fact only one candidate in the 2005 election had the name ‘Labour’ alongside their name, that candidate was Doris Kelly and below is how she appeared on the ballot paper.
Kelly Doris [address removed] Socialist Labour
Doris Kelly attracted 4036 votes in 2005, 14.2% of the votes cast, a quite remarkable level of support and all the more remarkable given that in the recent by-election won by Willie Bain Socialist Labour attracted only 47 votes – yes 47 !!, Socialist Labour’s supposed 2005 support had deserted them en-masse.
There can be only one realistic explanation for such a dramatic drop in support for Socialist Labour and that is that in 2005 those people voting for Socialist Labour had believed they were actually voting Labour. They put a cross beside Doris Kelly because it was the only place on the ballot where the name Labour actually appeared.
Michael Martin attracted 15,153 votes in 2005, 53.3% of the total votes cast. However when we add the Socialist Labour vote to Martin’s total we see that Labour’s real support in 2005 was not 53.3% at all but was almost certainly over 67%.
This puts a whole different complexion on the recent by-election result as, far from increasing their support, Labour’s share of the vote actually dropped by over 7%.
That the SNP managed to increase their own share by 2.3% is still disappointing for them I’m sure, but there was still a real swing to the SNP of around 4.5%.
The triumphalism displayed by Labour may have been based on a false premise, a premise that was further dented when a council by-election held only days after Labour’s Glasgow NE win resulted in the SNP retaining a seat with an increased majority.
The Bo'ness and Blackness seat on Falkirk Council saw the SNP's Ann Ritchie take 58% of the first preference vote. The SNP vote rose by 10% from May 2007 whilst the Labour vote fell by 2% to 30%, the result equals a 6% swing to the SNP.
Labour’s Jim Murphy said of the Glasgow NE result that: "The people of Glasgow have spoken for the whole of Scotland.”
With Labour’s vote continuing to erode and the SNP support increasing, Mr Murphy may not realise just how unintentionally accurate his words are.
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