John Ruddy crunches the electoral numbers and says Scottish Labour has significant grounds for optimism on the basis of Thursday’s vote.
When the SNP won their storming victory in 2015, many people looked at the large majorities they had overturned, and the size of the majorities they now held, and thought it would take a generation to overturn them. Well, the SNP have redefined a generation – on Thursday we saw that its now 2 years in Scotland.
Just over 7 weeks ago, I wrote for Labour Hame about the seats Labour should be targeting. I indicated that there were going to be many seats where Labour might not win this time, but would become much more competitive. Two of the 6 seats were Labour gains on Thursday, while 3 of the rest have seen the SNP majorities cut right back. The only fly in the ointment was East Renfrewshire, where a despite a vigorous campaign, we fell to 3rd place. However, this is a seat used to tactical voting, and the Tories were able to pitch themselves as the best recipients of the anti-SNP vote. The next election will focus on who is best placed to get rid of the Tory Government – and will only help Labour there.
But what of the results generally? Already we see the betrayal narrative being circulated, that Labour voters voted Tory – with various claims that Kez told Labour voters to do that, despite the fact she did no such thing. Indeed, the evidence itself shows this to be untrue – as the Labour vote increased in 47 out of the 59 seats in Scotland. And those seats where it fell the most were ones where a sitting Labour MP was defeated in 2015, so Labour had lost the “personal vote” of the incumbent. In my own seat, we saw the Labour vote increase by nearly half, despite both the SNP and the Tories pitching to Labour voters to keep the other out.
But whereas the SNP looked entrenched across the central belt in 2015, it now rests on very shaky foundations. There are 7 seats where the SNP have only 3 figure majorities over Labour – 2 of them are in Glasgow. Matt Kerr is only 60 votes behind the SNP in Glasgow South West, for instance, reducing the SNP’s near 10,000 majority to smithereens.
There are now 17 seats with majorities of less than 3,000 over Labour. A swing to us of just 3.4% would see them all fall to Scottish Labour, and bring our total number of seats up to 24 – and we would be the largest party in Scotland in terms of Westminster seats as the SNP would drop to 18.
The election result nationally means that the next parliament will not last a full 5 years. Indeed, we could see the next election come much sooner than expected, maybe as soon as the autumn, but certainly within the next two years. Its therefore vital that we are better prepared and are ready for an election whenever its called. We need to look at selecting our candidates for these tight battles now, so that they have longer than 6 weeks to establish themselves. I’d like to see our 2017 candidates given the chance to build towards that victory, as we need people like Matt Kerr, Pam Duncan and Martin McClusky in parliament.
This is not to suggest that we need to have a “one more heave” strategy – far from it. But if we can give candidates and local parties time to build over the next few months, we can achieve even more than we did in the last 2.
Finally I think a special mention is due to Ian Murray. In an election which saw so many seats decided on tiny majorities, he now has the largest one in Scotland of over 15,500. This shows what can be achieved by a dedicated hard working constituency MP.