SNP has Glasgow in its electoral sights

No one – not even the SNP – predicted or expected the gains made in Glasgow on 5 May.  I think I predicted that Nicola Sturgeon would hold Glasgow Southside and also that Glasgow Kelvin would fall to Sandra White.  But Shettleston being taken by John Mason?  Cathcart by James Dornan?  Or the remarkable fifth seat and talismanic Anniesland, once held by Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first First Minister, being won after several recounts by Bill Kidd?  Not even in their – or my – wildest dreams.  But on 5 May, dreams really did come true.

It is little wonder, then, that the party has now set its sights on toppling the Labour-held council in next year’s local government elections.  The Herald and Sunday Herald are particularly excited by this prospect, devoting considerable time and space to talking up the battle already.

But if the Scottish election result has given the SNP a springboard for success, the groundwork has been all Labour’s.   The spectacular demise of Stephen Purcell;  the behaviour of Strathclyde Passenger Transport officials and employees;  controversial school closures;  the privatisation of key council assets through arms-length trusts;  the snouts in the trough attitude displayed most publicly through ALEOS (though SNP noses aren’t entirely clean here either);  more scandals involving councillors, not least one just newly elected to Holyrood, Anne McTaggart.

It’s like the modern-day equivalent of the fall of the Roman Empire, indicating a party out of touch with, and remote from the people;  fiddling while the city it purports to serve burns.  If ever a council was ripe for a political coup, Glasgow is it.

But the SNP still has its work cut out.

In 2007, it made significant gains going from 3 to 22 councillors.  It might have had more elected, had it been able to field more candidates, for it only managed to find 22 to stand in the 21 wards. Yet in fifteen contests, its candidates proved the most popular, topping the polls in those wards.  But in most wards, Labour fielded at least three candidates:  in some, all were elected.  This left Labour to clean up and emerge with 45 councillors and nearly 60% of the vote.  If the SNP wants to govern alone with an overall majority, as Labour has done, the party will need to win at least 40 seats.

To be in with a serious shout of taking control of the city, the SNP will need to field a full suite of candidates in every ward – somewhere in the region of 56 – and persuade voters to transfer their votes.  If that seems like a mammoth undertaking, its task just got a whole lot easier, thanks to common sense prevailing with the election of Cllr Allison Hunter as the Group leader on the council.

Cllr Hunter admits that she is unlikely to remain as leader beyond 2012.  That statement makes plain the purpose of her interim leadership:  to unite the group and to organise for victory.  Cllr Hunter has form in this respect.  She was election agent to the SNP Depute Leader and Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in 2007, propelling her to a first constituency win.  Before then, she had been the SNP’s head of organisation.  For years, she organised elections and by-elections, trained candidates and agents, oversaw the introduction of modern campaigning methods.  Many of the current crop of MSPs and councillors around the country owe their election to this woman.  They learned their craft at this woman’s knee, or more accurately, on her yellow canvass cards.

While the party’s campaigning organisation has moved on considerably since Cllr Hunter “retired”, the basic tenets of voter identification and engagement, of organising and delivering a campaign, of marshalling and turning out a vote, still hold true.  And were largely introduced under her watch.  She is a formidable organiser with a track record to prove it.

Moreover, she has undoubted people skills.  If anyone knows where all the SNP’s bodies are buried, it is Cllr Hunter, and they will probably be buried with her.  She’s seen and heard it all and has listened, acted, sympathised, mopped up tears and diffused difficult situations.  A former primary school teacher, she was capable at silencing a room of squabbling activists with a look, never a raised voice;  indeed, the skills deployed with querulous eight year olds probably stood her in good stead for her role as the party’s organiser.   This woman was born to mediate and to smooth over troubled waters.  If the rumours suggesting a group with some strife and factions are true, she is absolutely the right choice, not only to hold the SNP councillors together, but to mould them into an effective campaigning unit.

Cllr Allison Hunter has all the skills and experience required to deliver the victory that the SNP clearly covets.  And Labour should be afraid.  Very afraid of what the 2012 election might hold.

3 thoughts on “SNP has Glasgow in its electoral sights

  1. Dear Burdz

    Interesting piece.

    This is what SNP Councillor Allison Hunter said me at the Westminster 2010 count in the SECC which I attended under Billy McAllister’s team allocation.

    ‘Why aren’t you doing ballot box sampling?’

    To which I jokingly replied: ‘don’t I do enough work for the party?’

    SNP Councillor: ‘I have been working from 8 am to midnight for the last three days so don’t give me any of your f**king crap’.

    I didn’t reply back.

    The same SNP Councillor on a work day, 4 people turned up to work, at the end of the session, an SNP organiser said to the activist: ‘you can make your own way back can’t you’?

    Then the organiser, the SNP candidate Chris Stephens and SNP councillor Allison Hunter all jumped in her car which had a spare seat and drove away along the long road which I had to walk back along.

    You are right when you say some people have: ‘undoubted people skills’.

    Not overly happy with this piece:

    “she was capable at silencing a room of squabbling activists with a look, never a raised voice”.

    and:

    “This woman was born to mediate and to smooth over troubled waters”.

    I am highly regarded by some in Glasgow, here is what I would say to Councillor Hunter who is my councillor in Ward 5.

    Not even a day for you.

    best regards

    G Laird

  2. I think a significant and permanent change is taking place in Scottish politics. The Westminster election last year was the last hurrah for the Labour Party in Scotland and they achieved an astounding result on a false premise.
    What was left of Labour believed the result.
    Many of us knew it was an illusion.
    Times up for the Labour Party in Scotland. In its present form it represents nothing that is worthwhile working for anymore. I don’t believe it has even given a thought to the proposition that independence could be the best thing for Scotland and that perhaps Scottish Labour should be part of that
    The Scottish election this year was significant indicator of that.
    When a society walks away from a political party they don’t come back and it wouldn’t surprise me to see SNP sweep Glasgow next year. And Alison Hunter is as straight and effective an organiser as any one could wish for.
    I was canvassing in Inverclyde yesterday. This is a very hard one for the SNP yet the feeling of a community contemplating changing its allegiance was palpable

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