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Why Labour won the Glenrothes by-election
THE GLENROTHES by-election on 6 November produced a shock result - Labour won! After a series of by-election defeats for Gordon Brown's deeply unpopular government, including Crewe and Nantwich and Glasgow East, the surprise was that they held the seat, never mind with an almost 7,000 majority.
Philip Stott, CWI Scotland
The Scottish Nationalists (SNP) achieved a 23% swing in winning the Glasgow East election in July - the more modest 15% swing needed to win Glenrothes should have been well within the grasp of an SNP who were still apparently enjoying an 18-month long honeymoon as a minority Scottish government.
Add to this the banking crisis that threatens thousands of jobs in Scotland, the economy pitching into deep recession, rising unemployment, house repossessions and New Labour's public-sector pay cuts and it was no wonder the bookies had the SNP as hot favourites to win.
Alex Salmond confidently, and for many arrogantly, predicted victory. He even tried to bask in the glory of Barak Obama's victory by using Obama's 'yes we can' slogan and declaring; "yes we can" win the election. In the end the SNP could only manage a 5% swing from Labour.
Labour's vote actually went up compared to the 2005 general election - the first time a party of government increased their vote in a by-election in Scotland since 1978. Some commentators put it down to the "Brown bounce," a product of Brown and chancellor Alistair Darling's "economic competence," the pinnacle, or nadir, of which was the handing over of £500 billion in public money to bail out and part nationalise the banking system.
But, there was little positive enthusiasm in Glenrothes for either the bailout of the rich bankers or for New Labour's response to an economic crisis that was rooted in the neo-liberal capitalist policies championed by Gordon Brown as both chancellor and now prime minister. The continued opposition to New Labour policies was partially reflected in the SNP's 13,209 votes, a 37% share.
Two decisive factors decided this election's outcome - firstly, the actions of the SNP who run Fife council in coalition with the Lib Dems. The SNP, whose council leader was their candidate in the Glenrothes election, imposed draconian charges on the elderly and disabled in Fife.
Homecare charges that had been a flat rate of £4 a week or free to those people on benefits - rose to a means-tested £11 an hour. Other charges were levied including for Community Alarms. New Labour's campaign was almost a single-issue onslaught on the SNP, accusing them of carrying out a vendetta against the sick, disabled and the most vulnerable. Effectively, they called for a referendum on the SNP's attacks on the elderly and disabled. This had a significant impact.
In election week, the SNP government gave the green light to billionaire tycoon Donald Trump to build a billion pound golf complex in Scotland, overruling the decision of the local planning committee. This contrast between attacking the poor and dancing to the tune of a billionaire did not go unnoticed. The local SNP MSP commented that she saw people voting Labour who had not voted for 20 years.
Iain MacWhirter commented in the Sunday Herald: "In Glenrothes, for the first time, the Labour Party managed to portray the SNP as something different: as the inheritors of Thatcherism, callous cutters and tartan Tories who care more about their small-business friends than about protecting the vulnerable."
THE SECOND factor was the impact of the economic crisis that raises serious questions in workers' minds about whether an independent Scotland could be viable on a capitalist basis.
Moreover the SNP's much talked about economic model of Ireland, Iceland, Norway and an independent Scotland, the so-called "arc of prosperity" has crumbled to dust. Iceland is in the grip of national bankruptcy while Ireland was the first European country to enter a recession.
There were increasing doubts about whether, against the backdrop of the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s, a dramatic fall in the price of oil and a severe contraction in the banking and financial sector, an independent Scotland could offer a way out. These doubts are likely to remain a big complication for the SNP as the recession worsens.
Alex Salmond and the SNP have supported Brown and Darling's state bailouts of the banks and have also joined New Labour in attacking the pay of public sector workers in Scotland.
For many workers, even those sympathetic to independence, the SNP's inability to provide any answers to the deepening economic crisis will tend to undermine support for independence, as suggested in a recent poll that found 37% of people now supported the idea of independence, down from 41% in April, with 45% opposed.
These factors together allowed Labour to hold onto the seat with a reduced majority. The Glenrothes election's polarisation was even more pronounced than in Glasgow East. 92% of those who voted chose either the SNP or Labour. Both the Tories and the Lib Dems lost their deposits and the votes of the smaller parties, including the socialist Solidarity movement, were squeezed badly.
However, what the result underlines is the need for a party to be built that puts forward a socialist and working-class alternative to the economic crisis and to capitalism. As recession deepens, New Labour will see their support further undermined.
The SNP, at all levels of government, are increasingly prepared to wield the axe against working-class communities and workers in struggle and present no alternative.
It is an urgent task to strengthen the forces of Solidarity as a step to building a powerful force that can act as a pole of attraction in the months ahead.
In The Socialist 12 November 2008:
Socialist Party campaigns
War and occupation
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party review