Friday, October 6, 2023

More analysis of the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election outcome

Just a quick note to let you know I've written an analysis piece for The National about the by-election result and the changes I think the SNP will need to make in response.  You can read it HERE.

One of the most idiotic self-inflicted wounds in UK political history: in a by-election that might never have been held if the SNP hadn't campaigned for it, Yousaf suffers crushing defeat that calls his future as leader into question

Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election result:

Labour 58.6% (+24.1)
SNP 27.5% (-16.7)
Conservatives 3.9% (-11.1)
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (-2.3)
Greens 2.0% (n/a)
Reform UK 1.3% (n/a)
Scottish Family Party 1.0% (n/a)
Scottish Socialist Party 0.8% (n/a)
Independence for Scotland Party 0.7% (n/a)
Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 0.6% (n/a)
Independent - Daly 0.2% (n/a)
Volt UK 0.2% (n/a)
Independent - Love 0.1% (n/a)
Independent - Cooke 0.0% (n/a)

I'm sometimes accused of being robotically hostile towards Humza Yousaf and never giving him credit where it is due, but I can honestly say that at the start of the night, when the gossip was about a narrowish Labour victory margin of around seven or eight points, my planned title for this blogpost was "Damp squib for Labour: they win Rutherglen but with underwhelming swing".  When it started looking as if the margin might be more like fifteen points, I was going to say it was the nightmare outcome, because the result was bad enough for the SNP to suggest that they were on course for defeat at the general election, but not quite bad enough to shock them into rethinking the leadership question.  But I can only react to the numbers that are actually in front of us, and they are truly shocking for Yousaf.  Very few people saw a 30+ point Labour victory coming.

It should never be forgotten that this was a needless by-election that the SNP played a key role in bringing about.  There was previously a pro-independence MP in place and she would have stayed there until the general election if the recall petition had failed, which came closer to happening than expected.  It's impossible to know whether the SNP swung the balance with their decision to actively campaign alongside Labour to persuade people to sign the petition, but the possibility can't be ruled out.  If so, the SNP leadership were the authors of this calamity in a very literal sense.

I've seen people trying to argue this morning that all that's happened is that Labour have turned out their voters from 2019 whereas three-quarters of SNP voters from 2019 stayed at home.  I mean, come on.  Differential turnout will have been a factor but it simply doesn't occur at that scale.  There will have been plenty of Labour voters who didn't show up for this low-turnout election, meaning there will have been a substantial shift of votes from SNP to Labour, and indeed from Tory to Labour.

It's a sign of just how poor the politicians were at 'reading' this result in advance that the Greens were suggesting it would show them on course for a second list seat in the region.  Instead they ended up with 2%, which wouldn't be winning them anything at all on the list.

If Yousaf survives this setback and remains leader (and it would be far better for the SNP if he doesn't) it's now essential that he brings his rivals Kate Forbes and Ash Regan back into the Scottish Government in senior positions, and introduces a more collective style of leadership.  Factional rule with a B Team government has been tried, and unsurprisingly it has failed.  But above all else Yousaf needs to start convincing voters that a vote for the SNP in the general election will directly lead to Scotland becoming an independent country.  Anecdotally, the reports from Rutherglen suggested that pro-independence voters were drifting to Labour because they felt that independence was no longer really on offer to them.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Possible benchmarks for Rutherglen?

No matter what the result tonight, someone will pop up and say "oooh, you can't read too much into by-elections, voting patterns are different for by-elections".  Which spectacularly misses the point, because by-elections are important not because of what they show about public opinion, but because of the effect that they have on public opinion.  The most celebrated by-election results, like Hamilton 1967 and Govan 1973, produced extraordinary nationwide snowball effects that fed into successive general election results.

However, to produce a snowball effect, a by-election result would need to have the "wow" factor, and because there's such a strong expectation that Labour will win tonight, I'm not sure a narrow Labour victory would be enough to produce a game-changing form of momentum.  To get a sense of where expectations lie going into the by-election, I ran an unscientific Twitter prediction poll the other day, which produced the following results - 

SNP win: 30.2%
Labour win by 0-9 points: 43.0%
Labour win by 10-19 points: 18.6%
Labour win by 20+ points: 8.3%

I suspect the high percentage for an SNP win comes from people who aren't aware of the basic arithmetic of the situation, ie. that Rutherglen is an unusually favourable seat for Labour and that the SNP would generally only win it if they're in landslide territory nationally, which plainly they aren't.  Nevertheless there does seem to be a genuine perception that the SNP have reeled Labour in somewhat and a big Labour margin of victory is no longer on the cards.

That means the expectations game has produced dangers for the leaderships of both parties.  If the SNP win (which I really can't see happening), it could be the beginning of the end for Labour's chances of a comeback in Scotland next year.  But if Labour win by more than 20 points, which I'd suggest is a more plausible surprise than an SNP win, it could now be a sufficient shock to the system to raise big question marks over Humza Yousaf's future as leader.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Final push for nominations in the Alba internal elections

Apologies for another post about the Alba Party's internal elections, but there's no point leaving a job half done.  As you probably know, I'm putting myself forward for two positions: Membership Convener and Ordinary Member of the NEC.  I would need twenty nominations from current Alba members to make the Membership Convener ballot, and I would need ten nominations from current Alba members to make the NEC Ordinary Member ballot.  Nominations will close on 6th October (ie. Friday), so it's all getting a bit urgent.

To crank up the tension further, I've just drawn up a list of people who have told me either by email or by commenting on the blog that they've nominated me for both positions, and I would appear to have exactly twenty nominations, which would be plenty enough to get on the Ordinary Member ballot, and just barely enough to get me on the Membership Convener ballot.  However, I only know the names of eighteen of those twenty people, so I can't check for duplication, and I also can't be totally sure that all of them have validly nominated me.  The situation is thus still a bit dubious and I would need a few more to be confident of really having twenty.

So if you're a current Alba member and you'd like to nominate me, the email address to send nominations to is:

As far as I know you just need to give the name of the person(s) you're nominating and the positions you're nominating them for.  Ideally if you could also copy that message to me, or send me a message afterwards so I can keep count of the nominations as best I can.  My own email address is:

You might remember that last year every single one of the National Office Bearer positions had just one candidate standing, and therefore not a single election for those positions took place.  I'm hoping to help play a small part in ensuring that members at least have a choice this year.  (There were of course very competitive elections for the NEC Ordinary Member positions last year, but those are only elected by conference delegates and thus the vast majority of members didn't have any say.)