John McLellan: Red alert for Labour

Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin
Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin
Share this article
Have your say

They were eye-popping statistics; in two recent polls the Labour Party found itself behind the Conservatives in Scotland.

Going into the last General Election it was an unthinkable position, even more so afterwards when against the UK trend Gordon Brown’s popularity on home territory increased the 
Scottish party’s share of the vote by 2.5 per cent to 42.

Yet four and a half years later there it was; according to YouGov Labour was languishing on 19 per cent, one point off the Tories on 20. Populus gave the Conservatives an astounding three-point lead of 24-21.

As David Cameron might say, calm down dear. Coming from the Scottish bit of standard UK-wide surveys, they reflected the views of only around 150 voters and in their other polls the numbers lurched about drunkenly.

Although Populus has had Conservative support as high as 24 points, both have put it as low as 14 in the last fortnight, so we might have to wait for the Ruth Davidson revolution.

But for Labour the health warning is clear; on average they are scoring around 27 so the plunge from 42 is far greater than the margin for statistical error.

Similarly, from a general election outcome of just below 20 per cent of the vote, the SNP’s regular ratings in the high 30s or low 40s is no blip. The Nationalists are on a roll and Labour is in trouble.

And this is after an essentially Labour-led victory in the independence referendum which was supposed to cause division in the SNP camp. No wonder Labour’s top brass are being urged to reconsider their miserly approach to devolution.

As for the poor Lib Dems, nothing seems to lever their support towards double figures. If, as referendum analysis suggests, 40 per cent of Lib Dem voters said Yes, the party could find itself with a parliamentary group the same size as that of the old Liberal Party under Jeremy Thorpe.

So six months from the General Election, what does it mean for Edinburgh? With three or even four-way splits anything is possible but sitting MPs who have done the groundwork since 2010 or before have a head start.

Even with the national party in disarray, it would take a major upset for Labour’s Ian Murray, saviour of Hearts, to lose Edinburgh South after holding off a sustained challenge from Lib Dem councillor Fred Mackintosh by only 300 votes last time.

With 15,200 votes, even if only a quarter of Mackintosh’s supporters switch to Murray, from SNP councillor Sandy Howat’s miserable return of 3,200 it could still leave the Nationalists needing 15,000 votes to overhaul him. There will be hope from Jim 
Eadie’s 12 per cent lift in the SNP vote for Holyrood a year later.

It’s the same pattern in Edinburgh North & Leith, where long-standing MP Mark Lazarowicz won nearly 18,000 votes last time compared to 16,000 for the Lib Dems and the SNP 4,500, but Shirley Anne Somerville scored more than 12,000 at the 2011 Scottish elections so Lazarowicz cannot be complacent.

The strangest seat is Edinburgh South-West where no-one knows if Alistair Darling will stand or not. Insiders say that includes the ex-chancellor himself and presumably he’ll make the decision in his own good time although it’s in Labour’s interest to give a new candidate the chance to build a profile.

Labour councillor Norma Austin Hart is said to be champing at the bit if Darling decides to head off into the corporate sunset rather than defend his 8,000 majority over the Conservatives. The Tories don’t expect to make much headway even if he does quit and it’s still a tall order for the SNP to claw back enough of the 19,000 Labour vote to win from a base of 5,500.

But Marco Biagi’s win in Central and Gordon MacDonald’s 11,000 votes in Pentlands for the SNP mean that without Darling it is by no means a foregone conclusion.

In justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s Edinburgh East fiefdom, Labour’s Sheila Gilmore will do well to hang on even though she is defending a 9,000 majority. Here is where Yes found its strongest support in the city at 47 per cent and where the army of new SNP members will be put to work.

The thousands of Yes voters who joined the party have given the hierarchy a problem for which other parties would kill – offices too small for the number of people wanting to attend meetings and a need to ensure the new recruits’ enthusiasm is harnessed.

That will mean plenty of door-knocking in winnable seats from now until May 7, armed as they will be with names and addresses of virtually everyone who voted Yes.

Independence wasn’t so popular in Edinburgh West, but in what will become a four-way tussle anything can happen. Lib Dem chiefs will believe, if they close their eyes very tightly, that even defending a majority of less than 4,000 their MP Mike Crockart could hold on if the others knock each other out.

So what’s going to make the difference? There is no shortage of despondency in Labour ranks and the core problem tracks back to lack of faith in Ed Milliband’s leadership. Comparisons with Michael Foot and the disaster of the 80s abound, and not just among opponents.

Swinging to the left, as favoured by Margaret Curran, to head off the SNP will cede more of the centre ground but if married up with a mealy-mouthed attitude towards more devolution the lost voters will not return anyway.

Veer to the left to tackle the SNP in the West and lose ground elsewhere, or stay centre and risk losing seats in the West? Resist meaningful devolution to appease the London party and lose credibility in Scotland? No wonder there is no queue to replace Johann Lamont as Scottish leader.

But even though the SNP has to satisfy an even wider political spectrum, the continued drive for independence, or at the very least devo max, is maintaining a sense of purpose which is all too absent from panic-stricken Labour.

SNP figureheads continue to insist independence is on the way and demand control of everything except foreign policy not because they are sore losers, but because they must. What they have – and what Labour is losing – is self-belief.

Their only danger, of which they will be well aware, is in putting off those people who supported them in the past but who didn’t want independence. Labour might hang on in Edinburgh but elsewhere? Ex-miner David Hamilton has a big following in Midlothian but West and East Lothian and Linlithgow are in play.

Their 41 MPs could easily become 25 and the SNP could match that from their present six, while the Tories and Lib Dems scrap it out over the remaining eight rural mainland seats.

You wouldn’t have put money on that in 2010.


EDINBURGH NORTH & LEITH: Lazarowicz (Lab) 17,740; Lib Dem 16,016; Con 7079; SNP 4568. Maj 1724

EDINBURGH EAST: Gilmore (Lab) 17,314; SNP 8133; Lib Dem 7751; Con 4358. Maj 9181

EDINBURGH S: Murray (Lab) 15,215; Lib Dem 14,899; Con 9452; SNP 3354. Maj 316.

EDINBURGH WEST: Crockart (Lib Dem) 16,684; Lab 12,881; Con 10,767; SNP 6115. Maj 3803

EDINBURGH SW: Darling (Lab) 19,473; Con 11,026; Lib Dem 8194; SNP 5530. Maj 8447

Chilling warning about climate change

IF you have a hatch, batten it down. If you are in any way feeling content and happy after a brilliant summer well cut it out now – climate change is gripping us and it’s awful.

A report to the city transport and environment committee identifies the problems we are likely to face, with page after page of dire warnings about the consequences of having warmer and drier summers with more hot days and milder and wetter winters with more heavy rain and less snow.

It’s going to be horrendous, I tell you. Just look at this list:

Property owners will be hit by: Bigger summer power bills from air con; more weeds, pests and vermin; more dampness and mould; higher insurance.

You won’t be able to get about because of: Road deterioration; drainage failure; higher maintenance costs; disruption to anything that moves because of flooding

Your local parkie will have to deal with: summer drought; stressed-out animals; weird new species; damaged trees.

The economy, has had it because of: heat stress; closure of water reliant recreational activities (eh?); lost work days disruption to transport and supplies; disruption to energy supply; bigger repair bills; loss of land and property values.

And if you’re not sick with worry already, you could suffer: more “vector borne” diseases (which I thought you only got in maths classes): heat stroke, dehydration and respiratory problems; more food poisoning (don’t eat pink chicken at barbecues); mould and fungal illnesses. Ugh!

Apart from the odd business opportunity, presumably for ice cream vendors or such like, there are virtually no upsides to having more sunshine, or so you would be led to believe from this relentlessly gloomy report. How on earth do those Southern Europeans cope?

So we need a big plan to deal with this and fear not, that’s just what will be discussed by councillors next week. There are no specific plans yet – that will come next year if we’re not burnt to a crisp or drowned – and surely our representatives will come up with a scheme to avert this seemingly inevitable disaster.

There is, a caveat, one which will send a chill (at least that’s cool) down the spine of every tax-payer: “There may be financial impacts arising from the implementation of adaptation action.”

You can bet your last Scottish pound note there will be.