Just a few idle thoughts since last Thursday, on Labour, the SNP and the like.
Some CLPs were so bereft of organisation and activists that it was reportedly impossible to work out what was happening as the little canvassing that went on was unable to benchmarked against the state of play previously. Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald told a similar tale, with constituencies recording single-digit numbers of voter contacts. On polling day, I thought that Labour activists on the ground were thin on the ground in Glasgow South West because they’d been diverted to shore up The Murph and Sarwar Jr. But the most likely explanation is simply that they didn’t exist. One veteran activist was left staffing a polling station for 10 hours by himself without relief and without contact from campaign HQ. Close to 7pm he exclaimed “fuck this” and headed home.
Meanwhile the SNP were awash with activists. Not as many as I’d have liked, but then I’m a grumpy sod who’s never happy. At a local level, the levels of canvassing were astronomical, the amount of material distributed was phenomenal, and crucially we had the money to do it properly and professionally. If we needed to spend a couple of hundred quid on a leaflet, we did it. Crowdfunding and mass membership have transformed every single branch and constituency in the party into powerhouses.
I’ve blogged before about the (then theoretical) broader financial implications of Labour’s crash, but now we know the actual bottom line: 41 constituency’s staff resources of £138,600 each, gone. The central research unit at Parliamentary Research Services, each MP contributing £4,800 a year, denuded by nearly £200,000. Short Money of £16,689 per MP + £13.33 per 200 votes, gutted. Another £50k in parliamentary levies on MP salaries. A constituency office, secure for a parliamentary term, no longer there. All of it going directly to the SNP. We’re hiring already, by the way.
Think back to the Labour Party on May 8th 1999. 56 MPs out of 72. 56 MSPs out of 129. 550 councillors out of 1222. The dominant partner in coalition at Holyrood, and utterly hegemonic at Westminster with a majority of 179. Now wiped off the electoral map of Westminster, save the denizens of South Edinburgh. A Holyrood group with more than a few members described in the Herald on Saturday as “backwoods” types, with Kezia Dugdale trying her best but surely knowing that behind her lies a group half made up of accidental MSPs. Councillor numbers down to less than 400. And a membership that most reasonable estimates put at about 10,000 across Scotland. If each of these groups make up a pillar of the Labour party, the structural engineers must be on danger money at the moment.
The decision to select the bulk of Holyrood candidates prior to indyref, rather than looking like good long-term planning as it did at the time, now has the potential to cause big problems, as ex-MPs look for a way back in via next year’s election but come up against candidates who’ve been in place for over a year. And if the regional lists start to look top-heavy with former MPs but light on constituency candidates, expect more ructions.
Despite all this, anyone who thinks next May’s Holyrood election is in the bag for the SNP is completely and dangerously deluded. A straight 10% swing from SNP to Lab from last Thursday’s results takes us to 40-35, more than enough to build momentum to the Labour campaign and convince the electorate a real contest is taking place. Throw in a possible new leader in their honeymoon period, plus a realisation by the grassroots that are left that such a defeat must never happen again and who therefore work their bums off accordingly, and you have yourself the ingredients for a 2007-style marginal win and a Labour minority/coalition Scottish Government.
The clearing out of some MPs, who frankly served a purpose slightly above seat warmer, also gives those in the Labour ranks who had written off candidature for the next two decades massive opportunities to work to secure nomination for 2020 and campaign in their seats accordingly. The morale of outgoing MPs ranged from low to “DEFCON Fucked“; their hungrier putative successors will be – you would assume – chomping at the bit to show their mettle and regain their patch from the SNP. With the Holyrood group taking a de facto lead in the Scottish party (so no more of the damaging turf wars that bedevilled Labour since day one of devolution), Westminster candidates can devote themselves entirely to working their patch, rather than plotting skullduggery in SW1A committee rooms.
With candidate selections for the SNP starting in the next couple of months, the campaigning for May 5th 2016 effectively starts now. Anything else risks following a sensational victory with an equally sensational defeat.