Friday, 7 November 2008

Glenrothes: Analysis

Well, after Glasgow East I indulged in a spot of analysis, so I thought I'd do the same for Glenrothes. I think my immediate post-match analysis (so to speak!) pretty much covers it, though I'll go into a bit more detail here.

Labour - undoubtedly a good night. By winning more votes than his popoular predecessor John MacDougall (19,946 to 19,385) Lindsay Roy ensured that Labour would hold the seat next door to the Prime Minister's. Based on the huge turnout and the upturn in economic circumstances (with Labour coloured glasses on of course) Roy was able to hold off a 5% swing to the SNP. The Scotsman attributes the win to a "Brown Bounce" which I'm not sure really exists. I just think Labour were very much able to get their vote out. Also don't think people were quite as willing to give the Prime Minister another kick - especially after he was kicked so hard in Glasgow East.

SNP - For the SNP it was a disappointing night. After suggestions (promises?) from the First Minister that they were going to win the seat, they had to settle for slashing Labour's majority from 10,000+ to 6,700. Not quite the result they had hoped for. Despite falling short, the party have succeeded in increasing their vote share by 13% and adding 5,000 votes to the SNP's pile in Glenrothes however, which is a good result. The BBC questions whether this result has burst the SNP's bubble. I'd argue not really, for a couple of reasons - and this is not spin.

First up, as an academic, it is easy to spot electoral trends. In Westminster elections - which voters still treat as primary elections - they look for a party that can act on the UK stage. They are much happier to give their vote to the SNP in Scottish Parliament elections where they see that the party can make a difference. Second, Glenrothes is vastly different from Glasgow East, both in terms of the make-up of the seat and the political circumstances. The SNP run the council here (in Glasgow it is Labour) which has contributed to the perception of incumbency - and they've had to defend their record. Plus the urge to kick the Prime Minister was not as pronounced here.

Conservatives - for the Tories, well it was a mixed night. They did well to overturn the Lib Dems and finish third, but they lost their deposit. However, Glenrothes is not exactly fertile voting territory for the Conservatives, and the fact that they've beaten out the Lib Dems for third suggests something for them to cheer about.

Lib Dems - Oh dear. Without attempting to bait Stephen or Caron, where to start. For the second by-election in a row the Lib Dems have fallen to fourth and lost their deposit. And I could replicate this post here. Apparently there was even talk that the Lib Dems - with nearby seats in North East Fife (Menzies Campbell) and Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) could even win the seat. With that in mind, how did the party only end up taking 947 votes? I know - it was a classic two-party fight (something which I pointed out here) which squeezed their vote. But for a party that claims to be the third party, the "real alternative" government, surely this is not just a bad result, its an unmitigated disaster?

I know I'm a bit unfair to the Lib Dems in criticism sometimes - and this may look like I'm diverting attention from a disappointing night for the SNP. You'll have to trust me that is not my intention - for I even did this after Glasgow East (when the SNP won). I'm just struggling to see what the Lib Dems stand for now - and I think, so were the voters in both Glasgow East and Glenrothes. Much was made of their win in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, but if the party are not careful, Willie Rennie probably won't be returning to Westminster after the next election... and Ming Campbell won't exactly have a cakewalk in North East Fife (though he should be safe enough). So Stephen and Caron, I know you guys were both out in Glenrothes and for that I'll praise your dedication. But two lost deposits in a row - are you fighting a lost cause?

So here we are. Congratulations to Lindsay Roy MP on winning the election (and proving my hunch correct!). Each of the parties has lessons to learn from Glenrothes though.


Alec Macpherson 7 November 2008 at 14:34  

I know I'm a bit unfair to the Lib Dems in criticism sometimes

Sorry, talk me through this. I can't see the problem.

stuart w,  7 November 2008 at 16:40  

Can't really fault your analysis, but you distinguish Westminster/Holyrood elections on the basis that the SNP can make a difference in the latter, but perhaps people are now realising that in fact this is not the case and that the SNP can't/won't make much difference at all at Holyrood.

(Also, your point clearly contradicts what happened in Glasgow East, although you do try to distinguish this from Glenrothes on other grounds.)

I'm not sure how the minds of Lib Dem voters work, but do you think they lost most of their vote to Labour in favour of the Union and/or against SNP hubris (ditto the Tories to a lesser extent).

And (without wanting to simplify a complex dynamic) presumably the SNP gained at the expense of Labour, which is hardy a revelation.

Thus the two main shifts were Labour->SNP and LibDem->Labour, which from Labour's perspective cancelled each other out, but increased the SNP vote and decimated the LibDems' share?

Malc 7 November 2008 at 17:16  

Stuart W,

Your first point I'd take issue with. Analysis of electoral results shows a distinctly different pattern of voting for Westminster and Holyrood elections - perhaps it is still a mindset that Westminster matters more and people want their MP there to make a difference - if you vote for a UK-wide party for a UK election that may be the case.

Equally, I'd argue that the SNP have made a huge difference to politics in Scotland at Holyrood - and not just in Government. Examples of government policy - freezing the council tax, abolishing tuition fees - which the Lab/ Lib coalition had no intention of doing. Also, in opposition, the SNP pushed the smoking ban - eventually introduced by Labour. So I disagree with you there.

Glasgow East doesn't fall in this category. In my mind, voters there wanted to kick Gordon Brown. The SNP were the best hope of giving him a bloody nose, to make him hear their voice. And that is ultimately what happened - 10p tax was re-established and Brown has relaunched on the back of his strength on the economy.

On your second point, I haven't seen any analysis of voter-transfer from Glenrothes, but my hunch would be that you are correct. The swing of 5% to the SNP only tells half the story. I think LD voters either went to Labour (and voted tactically) or stayed at home. But there is no question LD vote was squeezed.

Sorry this was long, but you got me in a ranty mood!

stuart w,  7 November 2008 at 18:48  

Malc - OK, I take your point about different voting patterns at Westminster and Holyrood elections, but what I was trying to say (I think!) was that the SNP's Holyrood honeymoon is over to an extent and this will have an impact on Westminster voting patterns.

Also, I disagree that SNP have done a lot at Holyrood. Your list of achievements seems pretty threadbare, and indeed the tuition fees issue doesn't resonate much with most people, and while the council tax freeze is welcome, merely maintaining the status quo in this regard has hardly changed the fabric of society, and in any case the policy is looking distinctly shaky and has clearly had some impact on local services and/or will have to be abondoned - perhaps it even cost the SNP Glenrothes, given the obvious impact of the social services charges in the by-election campaign?

As for the smoking ban, I'd forgotten that the SNP have to take some of the blame for drunks shouting and bawling outside my flat most hours of the day, not to mention the amount of fag ends on the pavements, so thanks for reminding me!!

Malc 7 November 2008 at 19:00  


Doesn't look like it matters what I say then, nothing that the SNP have done is going to impress you. I will point out that I didn't say they had done a lot - I said they'd made a huge difference. Which is different - I'm talking impact here.

Being a minority administration the SNP have only done what they can do. This is not me making excuses - it is fact. They only have 47 votes out of 129 so they have to pick things that they will get support on. With regards tuition fees, you ask any student or parent of student if saving £2,000 resonates with them

By the way, council tax freeze is not the status quo. Council tax had risen approx 60% since 1997. And while councils have provided more services with that cash, they've also squandered lots. Look at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The SNP are minority partners in administration in both cases, but are acting to clear up the financial mess both cities have been left in. While services have to be cut back, councils - as well as everyone else in this financial climate - must live within their means.

I don't think the policy directly affected Glenrothes, but the fact that council's have more control over their own finances probably did - eg the cost of care homes there.

One your first pont, I'm not sure if the SNP's honeymoon is actually over. But equally, I don't think their Westminster vote will go down either. In 2005 they only polled 17% - I'd expected with a strong SNP Government at Holyrood, that vote share will increase, despite my thinking about it being a first-rate election. But we'll have to wait and see.

Alec Macpherson 7 November 2008 at 19:30  

Malc, have you any thoughts about where the reduced Tory and near vanished LibDem vote went?

Malc 7 November 2008 at 19:39  


Suggestion is some tactical voting, some stay at home.

The tactical voting went two ways, and pretty much cancelled out. Some (presumably, mostly Tory) went SNP in the hope that they could aid in a Labour loss. Others (probably majority of the Lib Dem vote) went as a tactical vote AGAINST the SNP and shored up the Labour vote.

Saying that, I'm not sure that the tactical element was that large. I think that SNP/ LAB got their own vote out while Tory/ LD voters realised that there was no hope and, rather than going out in the rain, simply stayed at home. But that's just my thoughts.

Alec Macpherson 7 November 2008 at 19:56  

Malc, I would have thought that Tories, having Unionist in their very party name, wouldn't go in for this Operation Chaos. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to boil them to death in marmalade, but they do have some principles.

The LibDems, especially at local level, strike me as being more likely to attempt to put themselves in positions of power. Self-sacrifice is a new one!

Either way, their reduced votes still weren't enough to meet the SNP short-fall.

stuart w,  8 November 2008 at 07:34  

Malc - the substantive difference you seem to be positing between "doing a lot" and "making a huge difference" is lost on me - I can only assume you're hair-splitting ;-)

Yes, I agree that the SNP have been constrained by their lack of overall majority, but my point and your response was essentially about electability and vote-winning per se, not how the SNP's inability to deliver a more distinctive program might affect this.

As regards tuition fees, yes, I agree it no doubt resonates with affected students and parents, but my point was that numerically this group is quite small, and thus unlikely to win elections if that's about all that's on offer.

As for the council tax freeze, yes bills have gone up substantially in the last ten years, but again a freeze is only of marginal significance and of course it certainly won't last the next ten years.

And I'm certainly more than aware of council profligacy - in Dundee, for example - but I've never heard much in the way of opposition from SNP councillors in this regard. Indeed, what I usually say is that the only time there's any real opposition in Dundee is when the convenorships are up for grabs!

Maybe I overegged the pudding a bit by saying that the honeymoon is over, but there's certainly evidence of a lovers' tiff!

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