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Beware: Scottish Labour is a zombie party and the undead still walk

25 September 2014

12:38 PM

25 September 2014

12:38 PM

David Mundell, MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, is not often granted much respect. He is not a natural television performer, which does not help. He is a Scottish Conservative, which does not help either. But give him this: he predicted that the Scottish National Party would enjoy a surge of new members if Scotland voted No to independence.

But what a surge it has been. The SNP has doubled its membership in a week. More than doubled it, in fact. The party now claims more than 60,000 paid-up members. To put this into some perspective, that’s akin to a UK-wide party having 600,000 members. The combined membership of the Conservative and Labour parties is less than 400,000. Much less.

Now some of these members may be lapsed enthusiasts returning to the fold and some others may be joining more in a general spirit of support than in street-pounding, campaigning, flesh but this is still an impressive rallying of support.

Combine this with the fact that the Yes vote was strongest in the old Labour strongholds of Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde and you can see why a fashionable consensus has developed claiming that Labour – Labour! – are finished in the west of Scotland. They won’t be forgiven for allying themselves with the Tories; they will be recalled as Toom Tabards sporting Red Roses. Disaster awaits.

There is something to this, for sure. And yet I wonder if that appointment with calamity might be delayed. If there’s a reckoning it may come in 2016, not 2015.

It’s all too easy to forget how impregnable Labour’s position in the west of Scotland really is. Easy to forget because it is so depressing to remember. There are 18 western constituencies in which Labour won more than 50 percent of the vote in 2010. Eighteen.


A Scottish Mail on Sunday poll last sabbath reported that Labour still hold a six point lead over the SNP when it comes to Westminster voting intention: Labour 39, SNP 33, Conservatives 18, Liberal Democrats 3.

Plug those numbers into Electoral Calculus and you discover – surprise! – that the Lib Dems are wiped out but that Labour lose only one seat (Ochil and South Perthshire) to the Nationalists. In this scenario the Tories take Michael Moore’s Borders constituency and the SNP plunder the Lib Dems’ other ten seats. Even Charlie Kennedy loses. So does Alistair Carmichael.

In other words, as in 2011, the SNP is the party that gains most from the Lib Dems’ collapse. Labour’s strongholds remain secure. Now, clearly, the Lib Dems will do (a little) better than this. Orkney and Shetland will remain loyal and I’d guess Kennedy will survive too.

Let’s play with the numbers, however. Let’s assume – just for the sake of the game – that the Westminster vote ends up something like this: SNP 35 (+15), Labour 35 (-7), Conservative 18 (+1), Lib Dems 7 (-11), Others 5 (+3). That might produce a result, in terms of seats, something like this: SNP 20 (+14), Labour 35 (-6), Tories 2 (+1), Lib Dems 2 (-9).

That’s a great, great outcome for the SNP; it’s also a result likely to leave Labour’s western fastness more or less untouched. The SNP would gain Dundee West, Falkirk and a few other Labour seats outwith Glasgow and western Scotland but that might be about it.

Conjecture and supposition, of course, and just an illustrative example but a reminder – for those needing it – that Labour are not dead yet. Identifying a zombie party is one thing; killing it quite another.

Moreover, Labour have a decent card to play next May: this isn’t a vote on the constitution, it’s not a time for holding Westminster’s feet to the fire. It’s a choice between a Conservative government and a Labour administration. This is no time for a protest vote; it’s more important than that. Do you want a government for which Scotland voted or not? Do you really want five more years of David Cameron and George Osborne? If you do then, sure, feel free to vote for the SNP. But do so knowing that your choice has consequences.

That might not be enough to persuade every habitual Labour supporter who voted Yes last week but it must, you would think, concentrate some minds. And since Labour can afford to lose many thousands of votes and still win in Scotland that might be enough. The undead never walk alone.

So we hop aboard the irony bus once again: it is quite possible that, in terms of a Westminster debate, the SNP will do better in those parts of Scotland that voted No than, Dundee excepted, in those areas that voted Yes. Of course it’s not certain to pan-out like this but we should, I fear, be hesitant about writing the Scottish Labour party’s obituary.

Momentum – to the extent such a thing exists at all – lies with the SNP at present but it’s worth recalling just how far the Nationalists still have to travel before they have a realistic chance of sacking Labour’s western strongholds in a Westminster election. Even with all these new members, impressive though their numbers may be. Despite how impressive their numbers are.

 


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