It tells you something about the state of Labour in Scotland that stopping the SNP taking control of Glasgow City Council is seen as a triumph.
How are the mighty fallen indeed. One is reminded of the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos, a master politician who had great military and diplomatic successes. He even managed to find an able and talented successor (something which eluded most Roman emperors in the east or west). Sadly, his “empire” was a tiny slice of western Turkey – so his triumphs were a very pale shadow of the Roman Empire, which stretched from the Persian Gulf to Carlisle.
However, a triumph is what the Glasgow result will be seen as by many – despite the wider decline of Labour north of the Border.
Had the SNP taken Glasgow it would have been seen as a milestone on the party’s juggernaut-like progress to 2014. Now, to reprise the Alex-Salmond-as-dictator theme, the result in Glasgow will be seized on as Wee Eck’s Stalingrad.
Neither picture is correct.
What we have learned is that the electorate – despite what many think and despite the meagre fare they are fed – are not donnert sumphs. They’re no’ daft and can tell the difference between different elections. Local issues affect local elections, national issues national ones.
The way people voted in the 2010 Westminster election told us nothing about the 2011 Holyrood election. The 2011 pattern has not been reprised in Glasgow in 2012. It would therefore be rash to throw this result forward to the independence referendum, where the Yes campaign will need to win in the West.
(One thing that will be different in 2014 is the turnout, which at time of writing is under 40 per cent. It is a damning indictment of Scotland’s local politicians that so few of the electorate feel engaged enough to vote.)
There is a lesson here for the Yes campaign, though, and it’s this: the SNP is a political party with policies and personalities that not everybody likes. Independence is a single issue, which can be separated from party allegiance.
Politics is often tribal, especially in Glasgow. Some people will never be persuaded to vote for the “Tartan Tories”, but they might well be biddable on the issue of independence.
The Yes campaign needs to reflect this if it is to win in Glasgow in 2014 (or sooner). It will need to prominently feature non-SNP voices to persuade non-SNP voters to say Yes.