John Curtice: Labour's Glasgow victory is not all it seems

Share
Related Topics

At first glance the Glasgow North East by-election result was stupendous for Labour. The party did not just defend with ease a seat that socially is almost identical to next door Glasgow East, a seat it had lost spectacularly to the SNP only last year. Its candidate actually managed to win 6 per cent more of the vote than former Speaker, Michael Martin, secured in 2005. That makes it Labour's best by-election result since it came to power in 1997. What stronger signal could there be that Gordon Brown has finally turned the electoral corner?

However, a closer look suggests a somewhat more sober assessment is in order. One reason is that the comparison with Michael Martin's vote as Speaker four years ago is a little misleading. At 53% his support was unusually low. Seemingly he lost votes to a Socialist Labour candidate who managed to win no less than 14% - probably because some voters were confused about who was the 'Labour' candidate. When Mr Martin last stood as a Labour candidate, in 1997, he managed to win no less than 71%, well ahead of what Labour managed on Thursday.

But the more important reason lies in the way in which Labour secured its success. Labour's campaign had two main themes. First, the party argued its candidate, Willie Bain, was the only candidate living in the constituency, and thus the only one who really understood the needs and concerns of one of the most socially deprived parts of Scotland.

Second they focused on a claim that the SNP Scottish Government was 'ripping off Glasgow'. Labour presented itself as a vehicle to express discontent with the incumbent government in Edinburgh, rather than as the party in power in Westminster, while the SNP struggled to cope with having a record to defend.

Labour played much the same hand in the last Scottish by-election in Glenrothes a year ago. There too it achieved unexpected success. But it is not a hand that can be played in England, where there is no ambiguity about who is in power. There Labour has no option other than to defend its own record, and then it runs into trouble, as illustrated by its heavy defeat in Norwich North last summer. And of course it is in England, not Scotland, that next spring's general election will be won and lost.

Moreover, in England the challenge to Labour next year will come from a very different direction - from David Cameron's Conservatives. In Scotland that challenge is still largely noticeable by its absence. The Tories could do no more than just manage to save their deposit in Glasgow North East and just avoid being overtaken by the BNP. Their vote was even down on what they managed to secure locally in 1997, when the party suffered a whitewash north of the border. It seems almost inevitable that any government led by Mr Cameron will be backed by no more than a handful of Scottish MPs.

Such limited excitement as there was during the final phase of the campaign was generated by rumours that the BNP were going to make a breakthrough. Hitherto, the party has struggled to make much impact in Scotland, where 'Britishness' lacks the potential poplar appeal it has in England. Nevertheless, Glasgow North East, which has been home to a significant number of asylum seekers, had already proved something of a 'hotspot' for the party. In the event its 4.9% of the vote was only a little above the 4.3% it won locally in the European elections in June. Little sign here, it seems, of a 'Question Time' effect.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee