It's long been obvious that the Tory/Lib Dem government are desperate for Labour people to speak on their behalf in the referendum campaign, and that Labour are shamefully only too happy to play ball. But I was rather startled last night to spot that two Lib Dems actually seemed to be identifying with the Labour candidate in the Govan local council by-election as 'their' candidate. Stephen Glenn approvingly retweeted this comment from Jade Holden (a Lib Dem candidate for the European Parliament, no less!) -
"Govan's voters reject Independence at the ballot by voting Labour at the by-election. SNP storm out as soon as it's declared they lost."
It resulted in the following little exchange -
Me : "Reject independence"? Does that mean the 2011 election was an endorsement of independence?
Scott Watson : We should declare a UDI in this case, no need for #indyref. 2011 election showed what people want.
Stephen Glenn (to Scott Watson) : Well less than 50% voted SNP, so if you're happy with being #BetterTogether that's fine with me.
Stephen Glenn (to me) : 45% for SNP is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nice of you to mix up plurality with majority opinion.
Me : I'm surprised at you, Stephen, for ever retweeting such an obvious piece of nonsense. Tacit retraction noted.
The point being, of course, that Stephen's original retweet had explicitly suggested that a plurality for Labour in Govan last night (with less than 45% of the vote, as it happens) somehow constituted a "rejection of independence". But no wonder Stephen is getting himself tied up in knots - his party lets the Tories speak for them in the south, and they let Labour speak for them in Scotland...it must get very confusing.
Stephen is in any case on somewhat dangerous ground in respect of the 2011 result, because in fact the combined list vote for all pro-independence parties in that election was just fractionally short of an absolute majority, and clearly exceeded the combined vote for all anti-independence parties (there were a number of fringe parties and candidates that had no identifiable position on the constitutional question). So if in Stephen's view all elections constitute a de facto plebiscite on independence, then 2011 may well have constituted a mandate for UDI. That would of course have been ridiculous, but that is the logic of Stephen's position.
Turning to the Govan result itself, it's obviously disappointing, but it's not as bad for the SNP as you might infer from the Labour (and chums) gloating. In fact, the SNP vote fell only modestly, from 32.6% to 30%. The bulk of the increase in the Labour vote share (I emphasise "share" - their raw vote was actually down) therefore came from other parties. I didn't follow the campaign, but judging from Twitter it seems that Labour's success was founded on scaring people witless with flat-out lies about the SNP. Unfortunately, as we know from the 2008 Glenrothes by-election (and indeed from the infinitely depressing AV referendum campaign), such disgraceful tactics can sometimes work if the lies get under people's skin. I now feel ever more strongly that attack is the best form of defence for the Yes campaign, and that we need to get on with reminding people of all the very specific things there are to be scared of in voting to have Tory governments two-thirds of the time - which is precisely what a vote against independence amounts to.
However, a warning sign for the No campaign in the Govan result is the success of the No to the Bedroom Tax candidate, who received 9.4% of the vote - more than double the Tory share. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Lib Dems received a truly miserable 73 votes out of the 4740 cast, finishing in EIGHTH place. But they don't seem to care - they've given up on cheering for themselves.