Fear and Loathing in Glenrothes

Mike Small
7 November 2008

Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): What's a more motivating force, fear or hope? Across the pond Obama has inspired a generation, re-inspired another and put 9 million people on the electoral register. Here a halving of the Labour Partys majority has been represented as a historic victory. Here it was politics as usual, and bitter negative politics at that. Labour have successfuly played on peoples fears of economic collapse. But can Britain be held together by fear? Where is a credible positive agenda emerging from London? It's not going to be the Olympics or the sight of a UK football team emerging at Hampden comprising 11 Englishmen.

There is no doubt that Labour ran a very successful campaign, but that's not why they won. The SNP ran a great campaign but chose a candidate that made them the incumbent (Peter Grant is the Head of the SNP Council), but that's not why they lost.

There are three reasons why Labour won.

First, as call after call to this morning Radio Scotland Morning Extra phone-in testified, the Liberal and more so the Tory vote drifted across to prop-up Labour. What 'should have been' an anti-Labour by-election became a vote in some constituents minds against Salmond's plans for independence. The Union has become the dividing line. Once you have virtual policy-merger between Labour and Tory parties this sort of tactical switching is easy. The old loyalties have melted away. This may be worrying for the Liberals and Tories who both lost their deposits. For the Liberals they need to have some coherent constitutional position now that the old boys backroom deals of Brown and Campbell are a thing of the past.

Second, this was the forgotten election. Obamania has swept all before it. A British media bored with the harsh realities of an impending recession, financial crisis and tales of supefying economic mismanagement have embraced the lovely (but frankly irrelevant) story of Barack Obama versus That Old Guy. Who wants to stand in a Glenrothes shopping mall whilst you could be surfing the web for tittle-tattle about the gloriously inpept Sarah Palin? Certainly not the London media, nor for that matter the Glasgow or Edinburgh media either, who suffer from their own media bubble. Compare the coverage of Glasgow east with Glenrothes and its spectacularly different.

Thirdly. A few weeks ago it was seen as the defining moment for Brown who teetered on the brink of an igniminous end, cut down by colleagues comrades and the commentariat. He was failing to redefine himself. The hoped-for re-emergence of Old Labour, Real Labour or some such forgotten fragment of Labours pre-Smithian imaginary past failed to rear its head. Instead, Brown reverted to type. He re-appointed Peter Mandelson, re-employed Alastair Campbell and, hey presto, the heir to Blair had a slick spinning machine back in place. He used his wife to boost his profile in the constituency, though this almost descended into farce when the security threatened to shoot reporters (and mounted a purely negative assault on a single local issue.

All's fair in love and war though and good luck to Labour. As Iain Macwhirter argues, this can be seen as a personal victory for Jim Murphy, something he'll be immensely pleased of given pressures for him to resign after leaking information about the HBOS situation.

But is this a Garscadden moment that stops the independence movement in its tracks, as Labour supporters are keen to suggest?

Hardly. The Sub-Prime Minister will be relieved but quite how he has presided over our slide into recession, housing instability and financial mismanagement on an unimaginable scale and keep his reputation for fiscal rectitude is extraordinary. How in Scotland, he and his Chancellor have personally managed the loss of the nation's bank, and the nationalisation of another, RBS, (without apparently any control of its actions) without any comeuppance is astonishing. They have together created a sort of dystopian fusion of the worst aspects of Thatcherism and Old Labour control-freakery. So we plow billions into banks we then have no say in, because that would be ideologically wrong?

Job losses are coming and when they bite people will remember how there were always funds to save the bankers.

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