Friday, November 13, 2009

The Glasgow North-East By Election: Why Labour Won, why the BNP got 1,000 votes and can Labour, the SNP , greens or socialists recover?

The result of the Glasgow North-East by election saw a large margin of victory for the Labour party and an unprecedented 1,000 plus votes for the racists of the British National Party. Why?; and does the result allow us to predict General Election results in Scotland?

Why did Labour get so many votes and the SNP so few?

The main reason for Labour’s success seems to have been that it managed to get voters to see it as the opposition party in Scotland, as it’s in opposition in the Scottish parliament, even if it’s in government in Westminster. So voters may have punished the SNP for the recession and unemployment ‘under an SNP government’ rather than punishing Labour by voting Conservative the way they did in the Norwich North by-election (also strange logic to my eyes as current Labour and Conservative policies are mostly similar). Many people seem not to realise how limited the powers of the Scottish parliament are, assuming it has control of taxation and finance and of all domestic issues, when it has neither. The SNP’s rebranding of the Scottish Executive as the Scottish Government to boost the prestige of holding that office may have back-fired here.

Labour were also able to use the cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail link by the SNP Scottish Executive to brand the SNP as having sold Glasgow short. This decision was partly due to a very politically partisan decision by Brown’s UK government to cut funding to the Scottish Government from UK taxes once the SNP rather than the Labour party controlled it.

It remains to be seen whether this ploy will hurt the SNP nationally or not.

Polls also show that more Scots will vote for Labour in Westminster elections than in Holyrood ones, maybe because they dislike the Conservatives, seen as the main challengers at Westminster, more than Labour, even though some of the same voters prefer the SNP to Labour in Scottish elections. This could cut either way though : if most Scots start to fear a Conservative government at Westminster that could last another 15 years they may vote for pro-independence parties to avoid that fate.

Many older voters interviewed by BBC Scotland said they had always voted Labour and always would – and that nothing would change that – and that they saw Labour as the party of the working class. A much higher proportion of pensioners actually turn out to vote than younger groups – and this may have been even more so in this by-election. This may mean that Labour’s share of the vote at a General Election, on a higher turn-out, could be lower.

The recession and unemployment resulting from it has probably dented support for the SNP’s plan of independence within Europe, as in bad times voters may be more willing to stick with the devil they know than try a change.

Why did the BNP get 1,000 votes for the first time in a Scottish election? ; and what policies would stop it’s support increasing?

Recession and unemployment have almost certainly also contributed to the BNP’s unprecedented 1,000 plus votes in a Scottish election (though this remains a small minority on a low turnout). However other factors also helped the BNP – the main parties constantly trying to out-bid each other on immigration and talking about the supposed need to “clamp down” on immigration, as if the UK was a “soft touch” when in fact it has one of the harshest and most unfair regimes for people genuinely fleeing for their lives of any country in the world. Each year around 70% of asylum applications are refused, yet many of them are black Zimbabweans fleeing torture and death at the hands of Mugabe’s thugs and Afghans and Iraqis trying to escape death from hunger, lack of clean water, torture, war and terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On top of that the BBC gave disproportionate coverage to the BNP compared to other small parties and independent candidates long before it had a single Euro-MP. It’s coverage of the BNP and Nick Griffin before the European elections helped the BNP get those seats. The BBC has a lot to answer for in not giving equal air-time to Greens, Socialists and independent candidates.

BNP support is likely to fall as the recession ends, unemployment falls and its elected candidates show how useless they are when their constituents come for them to help (as has happened with BNP councillors elected in the North of England who subsequently lost their seats).

However unless governments start representing the interests of the majority rather than just big multinational firms and banks employment will continue to shift from the “developed” to the “developing” world with both losing out as a result. For instance if trade with China continues to make no conditions on democracy, independent trade unions, minimum wages or environmental pollution it will be impossible for the developed world to compete except by accepting mass unemployment or levelling everyone down to the Chinese level of (almost non-existent) democracy and civil rights, wages and working conditions. It used to be claimed that we would compete by superior education and technology – but China is catching up to the “developed world” in that area too – and overtaking it in some areas.

What does Glasgow North-East suggest for the General Election result?

This one election can’t tell us much about the next General Election as a whole, but it might indicate that a complete wipe-out for Labour – by the Tories in England, the Tories and Plaid-Cymru in Wales and the SNP in Scotland – is less likely – though still possible if Glasgow constituencies turn out to be the exception and not the rule in Scotland, or if higher turnouts benefit the SNP.

Can the collapse of the vote for the left and the greens be reversed?

It was sad to see that Solidarity candidate Tommy Sheridan got only 794 votes, though given the split between the SSP and Solidarity this was far more than might have been expected – the SSP candidate getting just 154. Perhaps neither had much chance of winning in the Westminster first-past-the-post electoral system (though that’s largely down to that widespread belief, resulting in self-fulfilling prophecies). However both were in their home territory in the poorest areas of Glasgow and between them they got less votes than the BNP. This is almost certainly down to the civil war that split the latter party into these two – and the disproportionate media coverage given to the BNP. The greens got less votes than the BNP as well. All three may also have suffered from recession and unemployment, which generally lead to a shift to the right or towards some form of extreme authoritarian communism, not towards environmentalists or democratic socialists.

Sheridan, interviewed on the BBC, showed his typical eye for the bigger picture by suggesting forming a new and larger left wing party from those on the left of Labour, the SNP and the smaller socialist and green parties, to focus on the voters that the Labour party leadership has largely abandoned in it’s competition with the Conservatives on who is most (British) nationalist and who is “tougher” (really meaning more willing to abjectly surrender to the made up headlines and issues in the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail). It was Tommy Sheridan who formed the SSP out of smaller parties and got it six seats in the Scottish parliament in the first place – and managed to get warrant sales abolished (at least until the other parties re-introduced them under a new name). If the bitterness with the SSP can be overcome he may yet be able to build an even wider coalition into an electorally viable party – and even if it can’t the split between Solidarity and SSP votes is always heavily towards the former – and there are plenty of other votes on and to the left of Labour and the SNP if a larger left-wing and environmentalist party was formed.

The prospects for it would be much better in an independent Scotland, when the SNP could no longer argue against not splitting votes against Labour – but that seems less likely until the economy recovers and reduces unemployment and uncertainty over job security, though some kind of economic recovery is bound to happen sooner or later

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