David Blackburn

The tactics of political insurgency

The tactics of political insurgency
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That Labour held one of its safest seats is newsworthy either indicates how desperate the party’s predicament is or that it is a very slow news day. Anything other than a Labour win, and a substantial one at that, was unthinkable; even the resolutely fanciful SNP must have acknowledged that privately. However, this by-election raises some interesting points nonetheless.

As Alex Massie notes, the gloss has come of the hubristic SNP. Salmond’s Braveheart act about winning 20 seats and seeing Westminster “hanging from a Scottish rope” looked optimistic-to-mad when first performed; now it just looks mad.  Salmond’s tactic of simultaneously posing as ruler and insurgent has backfired: Labour can play the same game, posing as government in one constituency and opposition in another. Peter Mandelson’s constant reference to this duopoly suggests that Labour plan to fight the election in such a manner, where and when they please; and it is a tactic particularly suited to devolution’s political topography.  

I doubt that Labour can defend its Scottish hegemony in a general election exclusively on those terms, but the appropriation of Salmond’s tactics might make him alter his strategy. Will he, for example, continue down the strident road and prepare a referendum, which he’ll lose, next year? Bagehot urges Labour and the Tories to scent Salmond’s weakness and encourage him to call one – certain that it would be prove the SNP’s Culloden. Or, will Salmond be more measured and return to the days of insurgency? Glasgow North East may turn out to be much more important than it looks this evening.