Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Would a Brown departure assist the SNP?

I once recall a journalist (no idea who it was, or in which paper) delivering the ultimate devastating dismissal of a politician's entire career - "I bet Geoff Hoon thinks he's a great communicator". Well, quite. We're not talking about a heavyweight here, and even with the assistance of (ahem) Patricia Hewitt, logic would seem to dictate that he's unlikely to succeed where James Purnell failed. However, one way or another we appear to finally be into the endgame of almost two years' worth of speculation about the Labour leadership, so it's at least worth pondering the impact Gordon Brown's abrupt departure would have on the outcome of the general election here in Scotland.

In one sense it seems obvious that having a Scottish leader has been a boon for Labour north of of the border, as it was for the Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy. Polling consistently shows that Scots hold Brown in a much higher regard than the rest of the UK. This must be having some kind of impact on voting intention figures, and thus, it might be supposed, suppressing the potential strength of the SNP, among others. There can be little doubt that Charles Kennedy's popularity caused particular harm to the SNP in the 2005 Westminster election.

But there's the rub - popularity. The fact that Brown is significantly more liked in Scotland than in England, where he's held in record-breaking low esteem, scarcely makes him "popular in Scotland". A much more impressive Labour leader could easily find themselves more popular than Brown in Scotland, even if they were less popular here than in England and Wales. So, paradoxically, it's theoretically possible that Scottish Labour could find themselves better off - and the SNP by extension worse off - with a change of leadership, especially if the new Prime Minister had momentum behind them that seemed to be taking them (and Labour) to what until recently would have seemed a highly improbable general election triumph.

Just one snag, though. Where is the Labour leader with the personal qualities to actually do that? Until a few weeks ago, I might have concurred with the general consensus that Alan Johnson was the one potential candidate with sufficient charisma, but his poor judgement over the Gary McKinnon extradition (and more to the point his angry defence of that poor judgement) destroyed that illusion once and for all. It, presumably, goes without saying that either Harriet Harman or Ed Balls would be an even greater disaster in Scotland than they would be across the UK as a whole. So who does that leave? David Miliband? Perhaps he's had enough time to recover from his 'Bananaman' moment, but on the whole I'm unconvinced.

So as things stand, my gut feeling is that a change of leadership would not help Labour's fortunes across the UK, and therefore the loss of the 'Scottish leader bonus' would be a blow to the party in Scotland. So, for my money, the SNP should be getting their prayer-mats out and hoping that this plot succeeds, although on past form I'm not holding my breath.


  1. E to the Z to the I to the OJanuary 6, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    The best case scenario for the SNP must surely by a Labour party led by Ed Miliband.

  2. Good analysis there Mr Kelly. I really can't think of anyone at all in the Labour Party who could lead right now. By the same token I find it hard to name one that would be less popular than Brown.

    That said, I am biased. I rarely feel so strongly about someone that I would say I hate them, but Brown mix of arrogance and crass incompetence has pushed me to that. I can’t bear to hear his voice or see his face. His complete failure to grasp, or admit the state that he has left us in is breathtaking (literally), blood pressure raising, ulcer producing. I certainly wouldn’t trust myself in the same room as him, especially if there were to be a blunt instrument to hand.

  3. James, what do you think the Murphy involvement in all this means for Scottish politics?

  4. Sadly, Brown can't sack six cabinet ministers, so presumably Murphy will survive for now. And then in all probability Brown will no longer be leader after May, so Murphy may well survive in the shadow cabinet beyond that. The one thing that could get in the way of course would be if he lost his seat at the GE - not sure whether his disloyalty makes that more likely or not.

    Still, apart from always having thought that Murphy was over-rated, he is unspeakably irritating, so if this helps to destroy his inexplicable credibility with the media in the run-up to the GE, it's not a bad result. "Bad judgement" and perhaps even "cowardice" will presumably be the assessment.

  5. Hi James,

    It now looks as though we will never find out as not one of the disenchanted Labour MP's appears to have the bottle to stand against him.

    I think this is a great mistake on their part for two reasons. The first being that this botched attempt has absolutely torpedoed any prospect of Labour retaining power at Westminster after the next GE. Far from Brown emerging looking stronger due the failed coup, the whole party looks fit for the chop.

    Secondly, I believe that the pollsters are not picking up on the level to which Brown is loathed in middle England. This will become apparent in the election results so long as the Tories don't blow it before then.

    As for Scotland, the "don't knows" as usual hold the balance of power. The question is whether the SNP can convince enough of them to come over to them to secure any meaningful advancement. Some of the signs are quite contradictory at the moment, though I confidently expect them to improve on their current position probably due to a big reduction in the Lib Dem vote in Scotland. The big question in Scotland is therefore not will there be an SNP advance, but how much that will be.

    I think we are in a position similar to the end of the Major years where the polls did not pick up the loathing that the Tories had then accrued resulting in Blair's "unexpected" landslide. I therefore predict a substantial future Tory majority at Westminster.