Friday, January 14, 2011

An election that tells us almost nothing?

I must say I felt strangely disengaged watching the coverage of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.  With less than four months to go until the Holyrood poll, I'd normally be looking for clues about which way the wind is blowing, even in an English election.  Generally that would mean hoping for Labour to do as badly as possible.  But Scottish Labour's fortunes in the general election seemed so totally detached from what was happening elsewhere that I wonder if there's any real relevance.  Perhaps we should be relieved that Labour didn't win by a wider margin than they did, although John Curtice's benchmarks of how they "should" be doing in a by-election at this stage in the electoral cycle always seemed a bit unconvincing given the unique circumstances that brought this contest about.

It would also have been encouraging to see the Lib Dems collapse, given that Iain "the Snarl" Gray is likely to be either directly or indirectly dependent on them should the worst happen and he becomes First Minister.  But their resilience tonight isn't at all what it seems - it's fairly clear that a large chunk of their 'authentic' vote drifted off to Labour, only to be wholly offset by Tory supporters wanting to express support for the 'top coalition candidate', in turn leading to a somewhat artificial Tory collapse.  All in all, then, an election in which very little can be taken at face value, and thus from which very little of value can be learned.

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