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Friday, February 10, 2006


The by-election triumph of the Liberal Democrats in the previously safe Dunfermline seat deserves all the credit going.
Willie Rennie
Lib Dem 12,391 35.8% +15.6
Labour 10,591 30.6% -16.8
SNP 7,261 21.0% + 2.1
Conservative 2,702 7.8% - 2.5

Swing Labour to Lib Dems 16.2%
Swing Conservative to Lib Dems 9.1%
Swing SNP to Lib Dems 6.8%

John McAllion (SSP) 537
Ian Borland (UKIP) 208
James Hargreaves (Christian) 411
Tom Minogue ( Abolish Tolls) 374
Dick Rodgers (Common Good) 103
They didn't just overturn a ten thousand majority but turned it into a decent 1800 Lib majority in what used to be considered a socialist heartland. this is less than a year after the general election & in the midst of a leadership crisis which some people had said would lead to a "melt down" of the party's vote.

Voters do often, even usually, vote differently at by elections because they believe they can register dissatisfaction without bringing down the government. They also had what has been accepted as a particularly good candidate & party machine. It must be remembered that at Livingston & Cathcart they didn't get anything like this. I don't think anybody would expect a repitition of this sort of swing at the Scottish election but even half this from Labour to the Lib Dems would leave them as marginally the largest party. I think even that is being optimistic but they will certainly be able to go into Holyrood next time not just as kingmakers but as potential kings. Will Rennie the victor said in his speech that "People are fed up with Labour for taking them for granted for far too long, they are fed up of too much spin, and the people of Dunfermline and West Fife have spoken for the rest of the country with their views on the Labour government." I think this is dead on - it is not that the Lib Dems are that popular but that Labour aren't. The Lib Dems will now be the target of all parties & are going to have to be careful that they do not fumble the ball.

This will also put tremendous heart into the UK party since if they can do this the leadrship crisis is clearly not such a crisis. It was noticeable that Charlie Kennedy campaigned hard here (moreso than his replacements who after all had commitments of their own but I don't think anybody could have blamed him if he had stayed home). He was genuinely very popular on the doorstep which shows that he is still their star - this would make it very tough if Ming were to become leader since the relationship between the 2 is hardly trusting. Fortunately this seems much less likely since Chris Huhne is now leading Menzies 38% to 34% (this would not normally be a sure lead but since he achieved this from the position of never having been heard of a fortnight ago is pretty magnificent).

For Labour this is a disaster & then some. Having, for a decade chased "essex man", "mondeo man" & other pepsylogical chimeras they have lost the unswerving generations long loyalty of their core vote. With the SNP redefining their commitment to socialism into non-existence the idea that Scotland is intrinsicly socialist & Labour its natural representative is gone. A lot is being written about how Gordon Brown, who campaigned even longer than Kennedy has been wounded but what about Jack McConnell? "Lucky Jack" has run out of luck. He will probably survive until the election but he has never looked like a leader of any calibre merely floating on a wave & that wave is clearly going out. Perhaps the best thing for Labour would be to lose next time & spend a few years redefining them selves & hoping that their replacements screw up. If Wendy Alexander had the cojones she could try an immediate leadership coup before the pre-election period but the fact that she didn't stand against him before suggests she hasn't.

For the SNP this is more a dose of reality & a sign of long term problems than an immediate disaster. In fact their vote went up. What has happened is that the Libs have confirmed the Westminster result that made them the main opposition (as well as part of the government) & confirms the SNP as the 3rd party. However if they are aiming to be part of government, then the Libs, who are their likely partners, being strengthened to the cost of Labour, always their opposition, is a good thing. The immediate problem for the SNP is that they are, by their constitution, prevented from allying with the Tories. Putting together a post election coalition against Labour will be difficult - putting together one against both Labour & Tories is immensely moreso. The long term problem for them is that their main policy, independence, is not popular. I think they will have to vie with the Libs for the position of most competent opposition party - that would involve pushing their extremely sensible pro-growth policy & publicising some of the more loony policies the Libs have passed at conference - deciding that we need new nuclear stations too would help.

For the Tories it is a disaster. This happened in the height of the Cameron honeymoon & the Lib leadership crisis, with them high in the polls & the Libs down. If they get a swing against tham now survival in Scotland is the best they can hope for. Fortunately for them we have PR in Holyrood. They would be best advised to think about what role they could have in a coalition (or perhaps outside it but supporting a minority government) & what price they will demand for it. They could still play kingmaker & a Labour Tory deal is an option they could keep up their sleeve.

The SSP proved again that they are a one man show who have fired the man. I didn't have a high opinion of Tommy Sheriden but he would never have been stupid enough to call for the destruction of our national flag. They are toytown Marxists whose only ability is to throw tantrums.

It should be noted that the "also standing" parties got nearly 1,000 votes between them which is very high. This tends to substantiate the suggestion that Labour lost the support of the voters rather than anybody else winning it. Mr Rennie's statement shows he knows this - will the rest of his party?

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