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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page


In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine