Scot Free

Later today, the results of the Scottish Conservative Party Leadership contest will be confirmed. All the smart money, and some of the maverick pounds too, has backed Murdo Fraser, the man who will win the Leadership, thank the men and women and cake bakers and raffle ticket sellers for all their hard work, and then announce the immediate termination of the Scottish Party’s existence.

Murdo thinks the only solution to the “Scottish Problem” which has infected the Conservatives with pox marks and scars is to rip it all up and start again.

And the man has a point.

In terms of brand awareness, word association plays a huge part in ensuring your target audience stay with you. “Labour” brings to mind so many thoughts and considerations, as does “Liberal Democrat” (and post-Coalition, heaven knows how many swear words amongst the images, but that’s for another thread….).

In Scotland “Conservative” is essentially a swearword. At the 1997 General Election, the Party fell   to a complete collapse north of the border, and to this day the Tories have but just one Scottish Member of Parliament. In the Holyrood elections this year, even with a proportional voting system, the Party musters fifteen members, a minority grouplet in one part of the United Kingdom where the current Prime Minister is one of their number. When Murdo Fraser points to the reputation issue as justification for wanting to rebrand the Party, you can see his point.

 At the core of Fraser’s concern is an issue more substantial than changing the letterhead and choosing a decent typeface (though, if the leaked document discussing names is accurate, “The Caledonians sounds like a novelty act on the X-Factor and Scotland First is a discount travel agents).  Fraser complains that the need for a real centre-right party in Scotland is hindered by the negative connotations attached to the words “Conservative” and even “Unionist”. His victory later today would draw a thick black line under the history of the Party going back centuries; Scottish politics would move further away from its already semi-divorced status to the rest of the United Kingdom, becoming ever more European in its political structures. The  new Party would take the Conservative whip, but would form independent from the Cameron-led Conservatives in its policies and practices.

There is danger in this radical idea (and for the Conservatives, this is about as radical as things get). Scottish political culture is a distinctly different place to the English equivalent; at the last Westminster election the swing was to Labour, conversely  at Holyrood the Labour Party was wiped out of its heartlands. Pinning a new badge on a lapel is not enough. For the Conservatives need to combat a distinctly Scottish problem without having the Oak Tree logo and David Cameron’s face moving into frame, to combat the SNP without the connotations of doing so with an English accent.

The influential Conservative blog, ConservativeHome, recommended the strategy in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 election. As Unionists it might come as an unusual tactic to deploy but when everything else has failed…

I am no Tory, though I am certainly no lefty-leaning apologist either. The Labour Party is a walking, talking economic disaster zone, one which has proven itself adept at persuading great swathes of the electorate to support its candidates despite taking those voters for granted. Scotland is going through an unusual two-tier electoral development, pro-Labour at Westminster, creating a built-in Labour bias regardless of circumstances, whilst rejecting the Labour model at Holyrood. The consequences for other parties, including the Scottish Liberal Democrats, is the political equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your belly. There is nothing to suggest the SNP have coherent policies beyond “independence now, oil profits for a brighter tomorrow!” written in North Korean-style poster boards.

I live in Northern England, where “brand Tory” is devalued in some major population centres. Whilst it is true that Conservatives have many councillors in Cheshire, Trafford and even Salford, their numbers in Manchester and Liverpool can be counted…er….in thin air. Whatever repair job is achieved by Fraser in Scotland will need to be carefully watched by the English party.

All democrats need to accept the vibrancy and urgency which comes from a multi-party system. The Labour Party has an attitude of entitlement which is drawn from years of lacklustre opposition; if the Scottish Conservative rebrand fails, it might mean opposing the Labour Party on both sides of the border becomes even harder.

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Vote 2011 – Every Loser Wins

Football managers are experts at finding diamonds in the rough (even Arsene Wenger, whose track record at actually witnessing contentious episodes on the pitch is quite the stuff of legend). Mssrs Molyles, Grant and the rest are wheeled out for post-game interviews to spout, by and large, the same things. “Yeah, it was two points dropped away from home, but you know, the lads really shone today and to come away with a point at this end of the season, you know, yeah, it’s really changed the way we look at the remaining games.”

This week I have been reminded that politicians can find positives in every situation with just as much ease and attraction to the tenuous. With so many elections on the same day – a veritable orgy of democracy – it’s little wonder how our elected elders have analyses the same source material and found completely different conclusions. Just off-side? Questionable linesman decisions? It’s all same-difference….

I will begin with Labour, whose leader Ed Miliband has been doing the media rounds talking much whilst saying little. “There are alternatives to everything this Government is doing” he says (well, sorry, “this Conservative-led government”). Sadly, Ickle Miliband is yet to outline exactly what those alternatives are. His Party were signed up to make public spending cuts in the same mould of the Coalition, so the “unspoken alternatives” he is failing to outline discredit his argument.

Labour did very well in two parts of the country – across Northern England they battered the Liberal Democrats seven shades of Sunday. Many great Northern towns are now without any LibDem representation at local level, or at the very least have seen their numbers slashed to bare minimum. Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Hartlepool, Hull, Leeds, Bolton – each city witnessed colossal drops in LibDem support. Here in Preston, our vote share collapsed in keeping with many others across the region, although we held onto one of our historically safest areas and increased our share of the vote in the target ward of Tulketh. As with all these towns and cities, we will be focusing on the Labour Party’s rule to ensure they keep to the budgetary constraints accepted by the Council before the election was called.

In Scotland, unlike Wales, the Labour Party suffered terribly. The SNP ripped apart the totems of Labour support – the Central Belt has almost no Labour MSPs at constituency level. Glasgow is over-half Nationalist, even Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy ditched Labour for the SNP. Fingers have pointed at Iain Gray, whose leadership did not inspire activists never mind voters, though the SNP’s success is clearly one of coherent policies. Labour went for negativity and attack, both of which failed to chime with voters who wanted to hear positivity and leadership.

Supporters of y Blaid may well be looking askance at their nationalist cousins. Labour’s working majority at Cardiff Bay clearly shows the difference with their leadership and campaign messages in the two nations. Could it be that Plaid Cymru stepping away from independence talk has made their brand weak and unattractive? What does falling to third do for Plaid’s future?

And now the Liberal Democrats. Well….

….Okay, so in Scotland we did appallingly badly. Wiped off the mainland in constituency terms we are now the Northern Isles Party in that regard, saved from total embarrassment by the vagaries of the d’Hondt voting system and its top-up seats. Clearly Scotland voted for its national parliament with one eye on Westminster politics; Scottish people have great difficulty in accepting any political alliance with the Conservatives can be sold for the national interest. That great guaranteed hotbed of liberal support – the Highlands – tossed us away like a caber. Just like the Labour Party in the South, so we have been attacked by our core supporters for not offering a credible or distinctive policy package and until we can speak with our own voice again Scotland will not e forgiving to whoever leads the Scottish Liberal Democrats in the future.

In England’s local elections, the Liberal Democrats suffered terribly in the North of England. The figures are stunning and sobering. Liverpool slapped us at every opportunity, Manchester ditched us entirely, and Sheffield stuck two fingers up at Clegg in his beloved backyard. Newcastle and Hull got rid of LibDems only a year after giving them control of their respective councils. Handfuls of LibDem councillors across Cumbria fell without so much as a handshake.

The lesson was very different in the South. We still run Eastbourne Council having lost 5 seats straight to the Conservatives, an increase of 8 Conservative Councillors didn’t change our control of South Somerset, and Portsmouth is still under our control (with no increase in Labour representation at all).

We have to learn from this. The messages we gave to voters over the period long before last year;s general election still hold true. We have thousands of dedicated councillors who fulfill their role as street champions and local representatives far better than their Labour equivalents. There is no sense of entitlement to any of our councillors and their wards. Clearly the Coalition is having a damaging effect on our representation, but that is not a reason to ditch it all in and start again.

The Conservatives won seats and councils last week, one of the first times that a ruling party has made advances after in their first year. They consolidated their southern support whilst making very limited increases from the midlands up (indeed the story in Birmingham is one of almost complete Tory collapse). Tories are still almost completely absent in the industrial towns across Lancashire, Manchester and Yorkshire. There may be blue bits in Sefton, but there most certainly are not in Liverpool, St Helens or Knowsley. In Wigan, the leader of the Tory group lost his seat in Orrell. In Chorley, the Tories lost control of the Council.

The winners/losers argument for the post-match interview is, therefore, whatever you want it to be. Labour cannot claim to have “won” the election period, having been demolished in Scotland and only reclaiming old ground in the North. Neither can the LibDems even suggest things are looking alright, for it clearly isn’t. The Tories need to examine how they break out of their comfort zones, because it still has yet to happen.

Two final points – the BNP were wiped out of Stoke Council, and seem to have only one defending councillor re-elected across the country. Their slow and satisfying collapse continues and long may that continue.

And I cannot leave without mentioning the AV Referendum. We lost. It’s terrible that the No brigade managed to drag victory from the ditches of its awful campaign, not least because this slams shut on meaningful electoral and constitutional reform for a generation. There is no two ways about this – saying No to AV has killed off any chance for a fairer, more representative voting system in the UK and that is a scandal for a so-called developed Western democracy. Labour had 13 years in charge to make a go of this, they failed, and this week their lack of action has come home to roost.

Some election periods are dull. Not this one. Much change, not least in Scotland, with constitutional and representative hoo-ha to follow. For those who found the AV campaign “a bit much”, incidentally, you wait until the boundary changes start…

Glasgow North East – Result

Glasgow North East by-election.

Labour GAIN from Speaker

Willie BAIN (Labour) 12,231 (59.4) {N/A}
David KERR (SNP) 4,120 (20.0) (+2.3)
Ruth DAVIDSON (Conservative) 1,075 (5.2) {N/A}
Charlie BAILLIE (BNP) 1,013 (4.9) {+1.7}
Tommy SHERIDAN (Solidarity) 794 (3.9) {N/A}
Eileen BAXENDALE (Liberal Democrat) 474 (2.3) {N/A}
David DOHERTY (Scottish Green) 332 (1.6) {N/A}
John SMEATON (Jury Team) 258 (1.2) {N/A}
Kevin McVEY (Scottish Socialist) 152 (0.7) {-4.2}
Mikey HUGHES (no label) 54 (0.3) {N/A}
Louise McDAID (Socialist Labour) 47 (0.2) {-14.0}
Mev BROWN (Independent) 32 (0.2) {N/A}
Colin CAMPBELL (TILT) 13 (0.1) {N/A}

Labour majority over SNP – 8,111
(2005 – Speaker majority over SNP – 10,134)

Glasgow North East by-election

Following the resignation of former Speaker, Michael Martin MP, there is to be a by-election in his Glasgow North East constituency. This will take place on the 12 November. The candidates are as follows, with links and info where available.

In keeping with my policy set out in the Norwich North thread, this blog does not include direct links to British National Party websites or candidates.

Updated 1 November with Scottish Socialist Party link

Charlie BAILLIE – British National Party
Willie BAIN – Scottish Labour Party Candidate
Eileen BAXENDALE – Scottish Liberal Democrats
Mev BROWN – Independent (Fellow blogger Kristofer Keane informs me that Brown has stood in various Scottish elections with different party labels each time, namely thus far Referendum Party, UK Independence Party, NHS First, Scottish Voice Party, and the Jury Team.
Colin CAMPBELL – The Individuals Labour and Tory (TILT) This newly registered party seems to be a mix of traditional Tory, old Labour, and Whig-influenced policy pick-n-mix with some terrible poetry to boot.
Ruth DAVIDSON – Scottish Conservative and Unionist
David DOHERTY – Scottish Green Party
Mikey HUGHES – Independent. Mr Hughes took part in Big Brother. Did he win? I have no idea.
David KERR – Scottish National Party (SNP)
Louise McDAID – Socialist Labour Party
Kevin McVEYScottish Socialist Party – Make Greed History
Tommy SHERIDAN – Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement
John SMEATONJury Team. Smeaton is the Glasgow Airport baggage handler who “took on” the attempted terrorist attack while on duty with the now infamous words “This is Glasgow: we’ll set aboot ye”.

If there any further updates or links, I will try my hardest to add them.

I wish Liberal Democrat candidate Eileen Baxendale all the best of luck in what will be a testing by-election fight.