Saturday, 27 December 2008

End of Year Report

As 2008 comes to an end, let's take a very high level view of the state of the parties through my own strangely tinted spectacles...

2008 has been a modestly good year for the Tories in Scotland. Overtaking the LibDems in both Glasgow East and Glenrothes was probably as good as they could possibly have hoped for and Annabel Goldie continues to be the best of the opposition leaders at Holyrood.

Elsewhere, Derek Brownlee continues to impress both in the chamber and as a TV performer and Annabel is given strong support by Murdo Fraser, Bill Aitken and David McLetchie.

It is unfortunate for them that their predecessors had such an impact on the Scottish psyche as their poll ratings do not do their capabilities and general performance justice. That being said, the last Westminster poll showed that they have crept above the 20% threshold.

Maybe, with a little more patience and continued improvement, the Scottish Conservatives could be a real force again.

Just where do you start in assessing Labour's year?

Compared to this time last year, we could say that things are pretty much as they were except there is a different leadership team in place. That would be to completely ignore what has been the rollercoster that has been the last 12 months.

Compared to August, post-Glasgow East and pre-Credit Crunch, Labour has to feel good about its current position. Almost everyone had written them off, Brown was described as a dead man walking and no seat looked safe after the outrageous swing against them in Glasgow East.

Since then, we've had Brown the SuperHero circling the globe giving the impression that he is single handedly saving the world, we've had the reinstatement of a full time Scottish Secretary and we've had Glenrothes. Labour looked to have arrested the decline, the SNP challenge was brushed aside in Fife and there was even brief talk of a spring election.

Another couple of months on and things don't look quite so rosy. The poll ratings look to have peaked and the economy is going down the toilet despite all the impressive looking action of Brown and Darling. By all accounts things are going to be much, much worse than anyone previously imagined.

In my view, the LibDems are the big losers of 2008.

If the result in Glasgow East was bad, Glenrothes, after weeks of presenting themselves as credible challengers, must have hurt even more.

Despite a few brief flurries from new leader, Tavish Scott, notably on the HBOS / LTSB merger, these electroal defeats have been reflected in increasingly sterile contributions in the chamber.

The good news, I suppose, is that things can't get any worse, can they?

Like Labour, the assesment of the SNP's position very much depends on your point of reference.
Despite trailing Labour by a few points in the latest Westminster poll, the SNP is pretty much where they were this time last year only a little more seasoned and mature.

Viewed from the immediate aftermath of Glasgow East, this will seem like a huge let down. However, in the context of Glenrothes, it demonstrates that its failure to wrest that seat from Labour's grasp was by no means the disaster it might have been.

It may be a consequence of having got used to him as FM, but Alex Salmond has undoubtedly lost some of his sparkle since the summer. On the other hand, his ministerial team continue to impress particularly Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and, like him or loathe him, Kenny McAskill.

My judgement is that the political momentum, briefly seized by Labour in the Autumn, is now back with the SNP and the Tories and my guess is that this will become more pronounced as the economy worsens.

The LibDems appear moribund and seem to have nowhere to go either in a Scottish or a UK context. Labour are now suffering from the expectations that were necessarily raised by Brown and his team in order to save his job. I fear it is unlikely the public will be fooled a second time.

I'll come back to the LibDems in a future post because I think their position (and future) deserves further analysis.

Looking back, I believe that Glenrothes will prove to be a watershed for Scottish politics. In the long term, it is probably the best thing that could have happened to the SNP - a small advance in terms of its vote but a massive brake on the momentum that was beginning to get out of control.

To his and its credit, Alex Salmond and the wider party, displayed a great deal of humility in the aftermath of their defeat. Indeed, I have even heard it said by some who voted Labour that this humility was enough to persaude them that they had voted the wrong way that day.

And, as I suggested in October they might, Labour seem to have mistaken the result in Glenrothes as an endorsement of its economic policies and a sign that the Scottish electorate had decided that it had been a mistake to flirt with the Nats.

The real lesson from 2008 is that the famous phrase 'Events, dear boy, events.' is as applicable today as it was when McMillan first coined it all those years ago. For the SNP and the Tories, this translates as, 'As long as Labour remain in power, there is a real prospect that they can retain power.' Both would do well to remember that.

1 comment:

Wrinkled Weasel said...

A fair round-up. I think you are spot on about the SNP. They were moving too fast too soon. I think Glenrothes will have just given the First Minister a modicum of humility. Which is nice.