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

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: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent