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by-election

<em>Picture: Thomas Nugent</em>

Picture: Thomas Nugent

There are some by-election battles that define a period of politics. Scotland has played host to several: Hamilton in 1967, Govan in 1973, Hillhead in 1982 and Glasgow North East in 2009. Others hinted at big changes to come, like Hamilton South in 1999 and Glenrothes in 2008, even though the seats didn’t actually change hands.

But then there are others. These are the by-election campaigns which fail to catch fire, failing to excite the interest of the press, the public or the voters – and which disappear without trace.

It would be great if this month’s contest for Inverclyde was one of the former, but there is a growing fear it may slip into the forgettable category. The political parties are trying hard to engage the public’s attention – but, after such a momentous Scottish election just a month ago, even they are finding it hard to generate any enthusiasm for the contest.

The bookies seem sure which way it is going to go. According to Ladbrokes, Labour are 2/7 to win the seat with the SNP on 5/2, the Tories on 100/1 and the Liberal Democrats tied with UKIP way back on 200/1.

There are several reasons for this: the late David Cairns was a liked and respected local MP. He was seen as principled and fair and his untimely death shocked and saddened many.

This is also a traditional Labour area and this is a Westminster by-election – and, as we now know, voters in the west of Scotland are much more likely to stick with Labour for UK contests than they are for Scottish elections.

All of this tends to point to an easy Labour victory and that is the way the bookies see it, clearly.

But the SNP would love to take this seat if only to prove that the political force that carried it through to its astonishing victory last month is not only still there but has the capacity to break through in Westminster contests too.

The overall feeling, though, is one of jaded resignation – on behalf of the voters, the media and (although they won’t admit it) the politicians.

Last month’s election was such a monumental contest that it is proving difficult for anyone (bar perhaps the candidates themselves) to raise themselves for one more effort, particularly when the result of this by-election will have little – if any – effect on the political process.

But they are trying (oh how they are trying…). Labour issued a press release yesterday which tried to tarnish the reputation of the SNP candidate by bringing up a vote from the last session of parliament.

In the last days before a tight and key by-election, this might have some effect, but more than two weeks out from what appears to be one of the most low-key by-elections of recent years, it really meant very little.

This is what Labour had to say. It published the voting record of Anne McLaughlin when she was an SNP MSP on proposed cuts to Inverclyde’s regeneration budget, claiming she had voted for a 60 per cent cut in funding to the urban regeneration company Riverside Inverclyde.

Labour’s candidate, Iain McKenzie, was kept out of this early rammy by party bosses. Instead, it fell to veteran bruiser Duncan McNeil, Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, to wade in.

“It is totally hypocritical for someone to vote for swingeing cuts to investment in Inverclyde,” Mr McNeil said, “whilst claiming to want to represent the interest of voters here.“

The SNP, for its part, launched its campaign with Alex Salmond joining Ms McLaughlin to appeal to voters to build on the message sent to Westminster by last month’s Holyrood elections.

Ms McLaughlin said: “We have an opportunity in Inverclyde to say to the Tory government and the local Labour–Tory coalition that we won’t accept business as usual. It’s time to put Inverclyde on the political map, to grab jobs and job creating powers, a fair deal for families and build a better future.”

The chances of the SNP putting Inverclyde on the political map do appear slim – but not, it would appear, as slim as the chances of the Tories or the Lib Dems doing the same.

The Liberal Democrats chose to blood one of the young stars in this contest, selecting Sophie Bridger, the 20-year-old president of Liberal Youth Scotland as their candidate.

Ms Bridger may well have a successful political future ahead of her, but it is unlikely to start with a victory in Inverclyde this month.

Nevertheless, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie (who knows a thing or two about by-election upsets having won in Dunfermline West Fife in 2006) was unstintingly positive.

In an extraordinarily optimistic prediction, he said: “Sophie is the right choice for Inverclyde. She is a rising star within the Party and I know that she will be a fresh new voice for Inverclyde at Westminster. “

The Conservatives selected David Wilson, the depute provost for Inverclyde. On a slogan of “An Inverclyde Man for Inverclyde,” Mr Wilson said: “This area needs an MP who will put Inverclyde first in everything they do and who will work with the local Council, the Scottish Parliament and be a voice for Inverclyde at Westminster.”

However, despite all the signals emerging from the banks of the Clyde that this will be one of the dullest by-election campaigns of recent times, there remains a possibility that things may change.

It can sometimes only take the intervention of one figure or a gaffe by the frontrunner to turn a soporific non-contest into the by-election of the decade.

One has to hope, anyway.

The Inverclyde by-election will be held on Thursday 30 June 2011.

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labour3Labour has today condemned an SNP candidate who falsely claimed the backing of one of Strathclyde’s most senior serving police officers in one of his election leaflets.

It is against the law for a serving police officer to appear in election leaflets, but Kenny Gibson is photographed grinning in a custody suite with Ayrshire Divisional Commander John Thomson, under the headline “we’re always on your side”. The matter has been referred to Strathclyde Police who have confirmed that Commander Thomson was not asked for his permission, and would not have given it.

Scottish Labour has called on the SNP to reprimand Kenny Gibson and urged the party to immediately withdraw the illegal leaflets. See attached a scan of the leaflet in question.

Graeme Pearson, a retired senior police officer who is now a Labour candidate for the south of Scotland list, said:

“The constitutional position is well-established – serving officers must stand back from politics. That is a line that has been well trod for 200 years.

“I took no active part in politics until I left the service, because police must be impartial.

“It is unthinkable that the SNP don’t know the rules. Either their party’s organisation is so disorganised they have blundered, or they are deliberately trying to trick people.”

Labour candidate for Cunninghame North, Allan Wilson, said:

“The SNP have been caught red-handed engaging in a dirty tricks campaign. The SNP must immediately disown Kenny Gibson’s illegal campaigning and reprimand him for trying to claim the support of a police officer .

“SNP party bosses must explain exactly what action they will be taking against Mr Gibson to make it clear it does not condone this type of illegal campaigning.

“This is an outrageous attempt to drag the police into an election and shows how desperate the SNP have got in this area.”

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Scottish Labour has today welcomed the strong Labour performance in the Wick by-election, with Labour going from fifth in 2007, to second after the Lib Dem vote plummeted by 42 per cent.

The last by-election, which saw Labour increase its share of the vote by 17 per cent, saw support for the Lib Dems crumble by 9 per cent.

Scottish Labour campaign coordinator, John Park, said:

“This by-election result is a humiliating defeat for the Lib Dems who have seen their share of the vote plummet. This is a strong performance from Labour’s candidate Neil Macdonald who has taken Labour from fifth in 2007 to second.

“It is clear Labour has a fighting chance of making real gains in the Highlands and Islands.”

snp1The SNP yesterday launched the second part of the £250 million Scottish Futures Fund with a £50 million investment in improving scotland’s digital connections. The fund will support five futures projects providing a step change in investment in key areas paid for by savings secured by the SNP Government from the Forth Replacement Crossing project.

The Next Generation Digital Fund will see real investment over the next four years in delivering Next Generation high-speed broadband and ensuring no one is excluded from Scotland’s digital future.

The Next Generation Digital Fund follows confirmation yesterday of a £50 million Sure Start fund to support Scotland’s youngest children.

On a visit to Border’s Biscuits – an internationally successful business trading on the internet – Mr Salmond said:

“Scotland must be positioned to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by the digital age.

“The Scottish Futures Fund is our bridge to the future. As we build a physical connection from Edinburgh to Fife with a new Forth Crossing so we build the infrastructure of the future with real investment in high speed broadband and mobile technology.

“Access to high-speed next generation broadband is essential not just for our new industries but for our traditional businesses and our rural communities.

“And we cannot allow anyone to be left behind. 99% of Scotland has access to the internet but in some areas there is a digital divide between rich and poor and old and young. We must put that right.”

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Mr Salmond also commented after it was confirmed that officers from Dumfries & Galloway police, supported by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, interviewed former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa in relation to the ongoing investigation into the Lockerbie atrocity. The First Minister said:

“I am pleased that Dumfries & Galloway police have had access to Moussa Koussa as requested, and no doubt officers will question him again if required as part of their ongoing investigation.

“It is very important for the integrity of the process that the police and Crown authorities are given the freedom to pursue their investigation without unwarranted speculation on the substance of their inquiries.”

And it was good news for the SNP in Wick, where they gained a council seat in a sensational breakthrough, achieving swings from all London-led parties in the Wick ward by-election for Highland Council. The by-election was held on Thursday and the result announced yesterday morning, and shows the winning candidate – Gail Ross – achieving almost 50 per cent of the vote on first preferences.

The ward lies in the Scottish Parliament constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross where the SNP’s Rob Gibson is in contention with the Lib Dems who notionally hold the seat.

The SNP vote rose from 17 per cent in May 2007 to 47 per cent yesterday, whilst the Lib Dems lost over a third of their vote, falling from 16 per cent to 10 per cent. The swings from each of the London parties to the SNP was 12.2 per cent from Labour; 17.8 per cent from the Lib Dems; and 15.0 per cent from the Tories.

First Minister Alex Salmond, who campaigned in Wick for Gail Ross on Monday, said:

“This is a major SNP breakthrough in a Lib Dem constituency – and a disaster for the Lib Dems. It follows the personal endorsement of John Farquhar Munro, the big momentum of the SNP’s campaign locally and nationally, and the struggling campaigns of our opponents.

“To achieve such big swings against all the London-led parties is hugely encouraging – particularly in what has been a Lib Dem heartland. We are taking nothing for granted but this result will be a real morale boost not only in the north of Scotland but across the whole country.

“The final result reflects the national political contest – the coming Scottish Parliament election is a two-horse race between re-electing an SNP Government with a positive vision and Alex Salmond as First Minister, or a totally negative Labour party.”

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<em>Picture: Open Democracy </em>

Picture: Open Democracy

Tory chances of winning the Oldham & Saddleworth by-election have now sunk so low they are rated in the same bracket as the Green Party and the BNP.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes now quote the Conservatives as 100/1 to win the by-election, with the Tories having drifted out massively from the 7/2 they started with.
A Labour victor appears a formality at 1/16 with the bookies.

Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes said: “The Conservatives have drifted alarmingly and as we near the polling date they could go off longer odds than so-called minority parties.”

Ladbrokes latest betting

    Constituency Betting – Oldham East & Saddleworth
    Labour 1/16
    Liberal Democrats 7/1
    Conservatives 66/1
    UKIP 100/1
    BNP 100/1
    Green 100/1
    English Democrats 200/1
    Pirate Party 500/1
    Monster Raving Loony Party 1000/1
    Bus-Pass Elvis Party 1000/1