So New Labour claimed their first by-election win in a year with their huge win in Glasgow North-East. While all of the vanquished have been playing the time honoured game of clutching at straws, for 2 of the defeated this is a serious slap in the face.
For the SNP, this is a crushing defeat. They had high hopes of winning this seat, and were certainties to push New Labour close. Instead they conceded a majority of 8111 to New Labour. There are 3 main reasons for this defeat. Firstly the SNP dithered and dallied about who to go for to run. There were rumours that Grant “Tartan Hero” was going to be the candidate. In the end the SNP chose David Kerr, a former BBC reporter, as their candidate.
Kerr did not adapt immediately to the task. Quotes attributed to Kerr emerged where he claimed that Universities such as the University of West of Scotland and, more pertinent to the election campaign, the Glasgow Caledonian “Did not have much of a reputation to tarnish”. There was also criticism of Kerr’s brand of Damien Day style reporting, brandishing guns in a supermarket car-park in one report shown on the news. Outraged New Labour spin doctors also tried to paint Kerr as the albino monk from “The Da-Vinci Code”, as it emerged that Kerr was a member of the Opus Dei sect. All of which damaged Kerr, especially as there seemed to be no response from the SNP to these accusations. The SNP’s own accusations about the New labour candidate, Willie Bain, that he was such a local boy that he still resided in London seemed to be ignored by the local electorate.
The biggest bearing on the campaign thought was the SNP government’s decision to scrap the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. The leader of Glasgow City council, Stephen Purcell, launched an astonishing attack on the government, accusing them of being “Anti-Glasgow” – conveniently ignoring the fact this plan was not universally embraced in Paisley, where the GARL link would be built. The “Anti-Glasgow” jibe became the cornerstone of the New Labour campaign – and the SNP seemed incapable of playing the spin. The “Ripped-Off-Glasgow” leaflets struck a chord, despite the viable explanations, and the construction work getting fully into its stride for the M80 motorway.
The SNP should have countered by pointing out the tough choices made, because of circumstances created by Gordon Brown’s position either as Chancellor or as Prime Minister. They should have led by saying this was a recession created by greed and encouraged by Brown. They should have pointed to the greedy bankers being let off the hook by New Labour decisions. They also should have made a pledge to look at more cost effective options, like a railway line taking in Govan, Braehead Shopping Centre, Renfrew and terminating at the Airport, or a Mono-Rail from Paisley Gilmour Street Train Station to the Airport. More than anything else it was a failure to spin the scraping of the GARL properly which led to this crushing defeat.
Not that the SNP were alone in being humiliated. The Conservatives are on course to win the next election, with an average poll lead of 14% over New Labour. Yet in this By-Election they polled only 1075 votes. One of the Tories, in trying to sideline the SNP, claimed that the people of Scotland had to make a choice between Brown or Cameron. The people of North West Glasgow gave their response in no uncertain terms to that.