Alex Massie

Lessons from Glasgow North-East

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The result hasn't been officially announced yet but it's clear that Labour have won a handsome victory in the Glasgow North-East by-election. That's no surprise. I don't think the SNP ever really expected to prevail though, of course, they hoped they might be able to repeat the Miracle of Glasgow East. Still, they thought they'd be more competitive than they have been.

Then again, this seat has been Labour for 74 years so a loss in Springburn might have done for poor old Gordon Brown. Happily for Labour the party was able to run as an opposition party, protesting against the SNP's alleged parsimonious attitude towards Glasgow. The (surprising) cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail-link didn't help the Nationalists; nor, frankly, did their pretty hapless, shambolic campaign. It's not often a good thing when the candidate can't decide where he was actually born. That may have been a trivial item even by the standards of by-elections but there you have it.

Anyway, the Nationalists' dream of 20 seats at Westminister, always fanciful, now looks absurdly optimistic. A dozen might be a more realistic target. Once upon a time that would have been considered a great success; now, thanks to the SNP's over-inflated rhetoric and hubris, it will look like failure.

Equally, the SNP may find itself queezed next year. I suspect that Labour's vote will hold up more strongly in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire than many people might expect. The SNP's tilt to the left - inspired, at least in part, by the need for another assualt on Labour's Strathclyde strongholds - may not be enough to change deeply ingrained voting patterns. For that matter, the Tories may surprise a few folk and be more competitive than many people expect them to be. Five or six seats is not an impossibility.

That said, being beaten by the BNP (as looks likely), even in a place like Springburn, is a result that's as tough to spin as Labour's disastrous performance in Henley.

UPDATE: Full results here: The Tories squeeked past the BNP to win third. A relief but not exactly a compelling performance. 5% of the vote, even on a low turn out, even in Springburn is not a great result. 

Nonetheless, the message of GNE is that some of the gloss has come off the SNP. This was, in a way, something of a protest vote as well as a reaffirmation of ancient tribal loyalties. Both those factors pointed to a Labour win. So, no surprises really. But Jim Murphy has done a good job in this campaign. In Scotland, at least for now, Labour has stopped the bleeding. Whether that's just a temporary measure remains to be seen. Since even a narrow victory would have been disastrous for Labour, avoiding that and registering a comfortable triumph is an achievement. Of course, it's a measure of how parlous their situation is that victories in places such as Springburn are worthy of comment at all...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.