And so the polls have opened in an election closer to home: the Glenrothes byelection. We should see a result by the early hours of tomorrow morning, but the current expectation is that the SNP will come out narrowly on top. Both the betting markets and party insiders are playing down Labour’s chances. Whilst Alex Salmond is sounding typically bullish.
Will a Labour loss mark the end of this latest ‘Brown bounce’? Almost certainly – and not least of all because Brown has invested himself, and his wife, so heavily in this campaign. But the question remains of what the rebound will look like. Will Labour’s opinion poll rating start plummeting almost instantly? Will talk of Labour leadership challenges start brewing once again?
I have my doubts on both those fronts. Labour’s improved poll rating has come on the back of a kinder impression of Brown’s ‘economic competence’; an impression which won’t be shattered by a Labour defeat tonight. While Brown will still be in a much stronger position than he was in a few months ago, and – crucially – his potential challengers in a much weaker position after the coup-that-wasn’t.
One senses that a loss in Glenrothes will be quietly accepted by Labour – particularly if they run the SNP close. It’s just no longer the flash point it once promised to be. More likely, it will represent the first few drops in a sea of bad stories waiting to fully erode Brown’s recent gains.