Why Labour won in Edinburgh and Glasgow

Yes, the SNP won the local elections overall, had the biggest share of the vote, and ended up with most councillors.  And yes, overall control of two local authorities and a share of power in several more is a great result.  All of it remarkable for a party in government at the midterm.

And yes, the party made significant gains in our two largest cities. But it was Labour wot won ’em.  Even though in Glasgow, in reality, they were really only holding.

Beware the power of narrative and expectation to distort the facts….

But even if those on the ground didn’t really believe the hype, even the most hardened activists thought they’d do better than they did.  So what went wrong?  Or rather, why did Labour beat the SNP in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

1.  Voter strategy Labour’s was better in both cities: the SNP went for broke and it broke.

The aim to extract two and even three councillors out of some multi-member wards worked better for Labour than the SNP.  Some of this will be explained by the unintended consequences of alphabetical listing of candidates in some wards;  in others, it will come down to low and differential turn-out, as well as the ability to make votes transfer across preferences (and Lallands Peat Worrier has performed miracles in setting this all out).

Was a role also played by the SNP starting from the wrong baseline of support? If where to place multiple candidates was based on the 2011 Scottish Parliament election showing, it was wrong.  The baseline should have been the 2007 council result.

Was there enough voter identification done during and crucially, before the election to test the strategy?  To some extent, it is a moot point:  if the SNP was to take enough seats to be the dominant force in both cities, it had to go for it.  But the failure to make the strategy work in all wards has resulted in the SNP losing experienced and committed councillors – Rob Munn in Edinburgh, for one – and missing out on having some excellent candidates elected – for example, Jonathan Mackie in Glasgow and Alison Lindsay in Edinburgh.

2.  Candidates Johann Lamont promised a shake-up of who stood for Labour and duly delivered.  Yes, there were still a lot of worthies and time-serveds around.  But in Glasgow they had a big clear out.  And in Edinburgh, they picked their new candidates carefully, people like Karen Keil in my own ward who is well-known in the area and has years of community activism behind her.  She got elected.

There were some like her standing for the SNP, but not enough.  In truth, the secret to selection for the SNP is contribution to party and cause, not to community.  It’s an approach that doesn’t always work.

3.  Leadership Gordon Matheson had a better and bigger profile;  Allison Hunter did not, and for all her various and enormous strengths, being a frontispiece for the country’s highest profile council contest was never going to be one of them.  The SNP could have managed this much more effectively than it did and saved a woman who has given a lifetime of service to the party she loves from public ridicule and humiliation.

Leadership played less of a role in Edinburgh, except for Steve Cardownie and Andrew Burns both surviving scares and only getting back by the skin of their teeth.  Edinburgh voters were lashing out generally at its political establishment, methinks, but for the SNP, in particular, it’s time to change the leader.

Then there’s the Salmond question, which has been much commented on elsewhere.  Did the Murdoch stuff have a bearing?  Possibly.  Scots, after all, are renowned for their attitude to luminaries who get above themselves.  And Lamont’s performance in recent weeks, playing the couthy card, representing the view of the common people, might also have helped shape the psychology of voters to a small degree.

4.  Manifestos Okay, now that hostilities are over, I can speak verily.  The SNP’s manifestos for Edinburgh and Glasgow were rotten.  They were so safe (anodised and neutralised by HQ no doubt) as to be meaningless.  Labour went bold and gave electors something to vote for.  Innovation and creativity in Edinburgh;  big commitments in Glasgow (some might say, giving pensioners a cheque at Christmas amounts to bribery…).  And it had an impact.

The SNP knows from its spectacular successes in 2007 and 2011 that a party needs to give people things to vote for.  For some reason, this basic premise was forgotten in 2012.  Far too many ifs, buts and maybes in the Glasgow document;  not nearly enough specifics in Edinburgh’s.

5.  Resources  The SNP did not put nearly enough of its central resources into winning these prizes: its war chest is being filled for the coming referendum.  By contrast, this election was one where Labour had to show some sort of a comeback and the threat to Glasgow was too big to ignore.  Apparently, Glasgow Labour had two full-time party staff and a secondee from London, as well as all the usual full-time union officials working on their campaign.  It showed.

The SNP might have emerged from this campaign with resources scarcely dented but at what cost in terms of momentum and electoral infallibility?

6.  Philosophy  This relates to the fundamental approach of both parties.  Labour’s is one of bottom-up;  the SNP largely of top-down in political terms.

Labour’s historical essence is grassroots – from community base into local government and then onwards and upwards.  True, it had taken this approach for granted in recent years, but Johann Lamont is nothing if not a traditionalist.  She realised – as others did – that the first step to recovery was to reconnect with its grassroots.  To start building again, from the lowest base.

Holding Glasgow, making gains in Edinburgh – and in other areas like Fife – gives the party a solid base upon which to continue the recovery.

The SNP has always been a party where people arrive from adherence to the core cause.  They come in from the top and the side and are then organised into branches: often, there is little connection to community nor engagement with community beyond party structures.  Moreover, there has always been disinterest – and in some cases, disdain and scorn – for the role local government plays in the political firmament.  Things have changed in the SNP in recent years, but not nearly enough.  There is still insufficient support or respect for councillors from the centre:  local government is viewed as an add-on, rather than the bedrock.

The key to success in Glasgow and Edinburgh is to learn lessons from cities like Dundee and areas like Angus where it has achieved real traction, connection and success at all electoral levels.  All the building blocks of organisation and capacity are nurtured and resourced.  In both local authority areas, there is a real synergy and connectedness across the layers of government in how the party approaches elections.

But the SNP in Glasgow and Edinburgh should not be disheartened:  it made significant gains in 2012, just not enough to claim first prize.  There are lessons to be learned, for future council elections, and even parliamentary ones.  Crucially, resolving some of the weaknesses exposed by the 2012 campaign will aid the Yes campaign.

And for Labour, well, it’s a start but there is still a long way to go before the party can claim to have won back the hearts and minds of voters.  Glasgow was a good hold:  Edinburgh represents a decent gain.  But one swallow – or even two – does not a summer make.

Council election predictions (with a little help from Mystic Malc)

We were so good at predicting the results of the Scottish Parliament elections last year, we thought we’d entertain you again with our thoughts on Thursday’s council elections.  Malc H, whose blogging we all miss dearly, came for his tea and to cast his mystic eye over the runners and riders in several local authority areas.  We are indebted to Kristofer Keane who has done all the hard work in a number of key local authorities.  We just looked at what he said, tossed a coin and decided aye or naw.  Or something like that.

Anyway, our predictions for nine local authorities.  For all the background and detail, visit the very excellent www.scottishelections.org.uk

Aberdeen: 43 seats, 22 needed for majority administration.  Big deficit, SNP-LibDem administration, huge budget cuts, city bucking the economic trend, still no bypass and Union Gardens controversy.

Malc and I reckon the Lib Dems are going to take a pasting with the SNP benefiting most, due to its buoyancy currently in the city.

So 19 for the SNP (+12);  Labour 11 (+1);  Lib Dems 3 (-12), Conservatives 5 (no change); Scottish Greens 1 (+1);  Independents 4 (+3)

Prediction: The SNP will finish just short of an overall majority and will form a coalition with the Lib Dems or Independents.


Aberdeenshire: 68 councillors, 35 needed for a majority.  Rural, home to Trump and also to the First Minister, small towns with some big problems, home to what’s left of our fishing industry.

And the pundits say?  Big gains for the SNP at these elections, again at the expense of the Lib Dems, but also a big fat zero for Labour.

The SNP will take 32 seats (+10), Conservatives 14 (no change), Liberal Democrats 13 (-11), Independents 8 (no change) and Scottish Greens 1 (no change but really a nominal gain as Martin Ford, former Lib Dem councillor who defected to the Greens will hold his seat).  Labour 0 (no change).

Prediction:  The SNP will have enough seats to form a minority administration, but could be outflanked by a joint Conservative/LibDem manoeuvre to seize power.


Fife: a big local authority with 78 seats, so 40 needed for an overall majority.  once a Lib Dem citadel in the East Neuk, with solid Labour heartlands, lots of surprising gains for the SNP, home to the Presiding Officer and also Bill Walker.

This will be a two horse race to the finish between SNP and Labour with the SNP’s strength and popularity winning the day.

SNP 34 (+12), Labour 26 (+2), Lib Dems 7 (-14), Conservatives 6 (+1), Independents 3 (-2), Scottish Greens 1 (+1)

Prediction:  SNP-Lib Dem-Green coalition.  There might be an attempt to form an anyone-but-SNP coalition but it won’t work.


Edinburgh: A 58 seat local authority, 30 needed for a majority.  The capital city, fond of rainbow politics with no party dominating, trams, financial services, the Parly, hidden poverty, attempts to privatise care services.

SNP 20 (+8), Labour 17 (+2), Conservatives 11 (no change), Scottish Greens 5 (+2), Lib Dems 5 (-12)

Prediction:  Yep a polarising of support and the trouncing of the once vibrant Lib Dems.  Labour will fall just short of numbers needed for anything other than opposition.  It will be an SNP minority administration (with tacit Tory support issue by issue in return for a few baubles).


Clackmannanshire: The wee-est local authority in the land with only 18 seats.  As Kristofer Keane points out, the fact that it divides between Labour and the SNP makes forming a stable administration difficult.  Last time round, we had a minority Labour one and in the final months, an SNP one. Ten seats are needed for a majority.

SNP 9 (+2), Labour 8 (no change), Conservative 1 (no change).  Lib Dems and the Independent will lose their sole respective seats.

Prediction:  An SNP minority administration with the Conservative able to demand his or her price.


Falkirk:  32 seat authority, 17 required for overall control.  Hit hard by the recession, home to Denis Canavan and the far less august Eric Joyce, a big refinery, UFOs (possibly) and has always been a solid area at council level for the SNP.

SNP 16 (+3), Labour 12 (-2), Independent 3 (no change), Conservative 1 (-1).

Prediction:  Some of the independents returned might well be disgruntled ex Labour councillors who were de-selected.  Are they likely to join their former party colleagues in a coalition with a Tory that is still only a minority administration?  An SNP minority administration then.


East Dunbartonshire: 24 seat authority, 13 required for control.  Leafy commuter suburbs, hidden poverty, small towns, Jo Swinson, 2 SNP MSPs, bizarre Independent party.  Most interestingly, no party is standing enough candidates to win overall control. Nothing like admitting defeat before you start.  Even more perplexingly, the SNP has exactly the same number of candidates as in 2007 and will not be able to take advantage of its own popularity nor of the meltdown of the Lib Dems.

SNP 8 (no change);  Labour 8 (+2);  Conservatives 5 (no change); East Dunbartonshire Independent Alliance 2 (no change); Lib Dems 1 (-2).

Prediction:  Same as you were with a Labour-Tory administration.  Leaves you wondering why they bothered really.


East Ayrshire: 32 seats, 17 needed for overall control.  A bit of dual personality local authority with the bedrock of SNP support in the Kilmarnock area and old Labour former coalfields in the Cumnock valley.  Endemic deprivation in many areas, Johnny Walker, a Cup win for the Killie, a new college campus, strong local communities.

SNP 16 (+3);  Labour 13 (-1);  Conservatives 3 (no change).

Prediction:  SNP minority administration continues with tacit support of Tories.  But this is another local authority where the lack of ambition by the SNP might hold it back.  There is also a whiff of suspicion in this area, as in some others, that the dominance of local councillors in local party structures (not simply in the SNP) has resulted in a very cautious approach to fielding candidates.  Admittedly a two or even three candidate approach in wards is hard to work with STV, but it can and is done.  Many councillors won’t want “their” vote split so will push for them being the only candidates.  Hence, the astonishing situation where the SNP and indeed, Labour haven’t even fielded enough candidates in some local authority contests to be in with a chance of winning a majority.


Glasgow: 79 seats, 40 is the magic number.  Yes, I know we kept you waiting for the main event.  This prediction is a game of two halves with Malc doing the first lot of wards on his own and me only getting to interfere in the latter half.  We (I?) reckon Glasgow First might well pick up some seats at Labour’s expense.  We’ll see.  Whatever, this is a dogfight to the death with some transfers so close they might well still be counting on Sunday.  Every vote will count in the race to achieve the supposed prize in local politics.  A city with huge inequalities, astonishing levels of poverty, but also huge potential with the Commonwealth Games and investment in infrastructure.

SNP 37 (+15); Labour 32 (-13); Glasgow First 4 (+4);  Scottish Greens 4 (-1);  Conservatives 1 (no change);  Solidarity 1 (no change); Lib Dems 0 (-5)

Yep, we predict a big slide for Labour – based on nothing other than my belief that you can sniff the mood for change in the air – a rout for the Lib Dems and Gail Sheridan winning a ward (this one is the sentimental Malc’s choice – EDIT: Malc insists it isn’t sentimentality – he just doesn’t think Glaswegians can resist the name “Sheridan” on a ballot paper!).

Prediction:  Even if Labour wanted to form a coalition administration (or anyone wanted to form one with them) they won’t have the numbers.  An SNP-Scottish Green coalition doesn’t seem like too much wishful thinking…



So there you have it, mystic Malc and the burd Brahan Seer of blogging have given you the low down on some key and some interesting local authority contests.

Essentially, the SNP will make significant gains, its electoral popularity continuing to be buoyant.  Its march to electoral domination will only really be held back by a lack of ambition (or indeed, simply running out of folk to stand) in some areas.

But Labour will emerge somewhat bloodied from the loss of Glasgow but actually having done okay in terms of overall result.  No meltdown is a good result.

The Lib Dems, though, will have a terrible night, being reduced to a rump.  Meanwhile the Tories will find themselves largely stuck in neutral but they will gain more footholds and possibly, roles in more administrations.  The Scottish Greens, I think, will have a decent night, but not enough to make the breakthrough.

Applying a secret scientific formula which we couldn’t possibly reveal, here are our overall predictions for numbers of councillors across Scotland.  There are 1,222 to be elected.

SNP:  Malc reckons about 470 but for once, I’m being sunnily optimistic and suggesting that the SNP will end up with at least 500 councillors.  In 2007, they had 363 councillors, which was a doubling from its numbers in 2003.  A remarkable rise then, but the question is – are they any good?

Labour: Malc and I are agreed that Labour will come home with around 360 councillors, representing a small net gain on the night (343 in 2007).  Enough to call the dogs off the party leader but not much else.

Conservatives:  Malc reckons they’ll have more or less the same number they started with – 140.  Maybe I just hope for fewer, but do think they will get squeezed in some areas and record a small loss.  130 is my call.

Liberal Democrats:  We are both predicting big losses.  In 2007, the Lib Dems returned 166 councillors.  I think that will halve and they will be left with about 85.  Malc is even more pessimistic with 60.  This will be the story of the night and maybe now everyone will start ignoring Willie Rennie and his rump.

Scottish Greens: I’m predicting a wee surge for the Greens, up to 20 councillors from 8 in 2007.  Malc reckons 12 which still represents a big proportionate gain.

Independents:  Still a huge feature in many local authorities, especially rural ones.  And while the Lib Dems will be officially routed, many will sneak in the back door as Independents.  In 2007, there were 192 independent councillors elected;  we both think this will slip back a bit.  The tradition is definitely in decline.  Malc is going for 160 returned, I’m suggesting far fewer at 115.

Finally, good luck to all those standing for election.  The finish line is in sight but in case you think it is nearly all over?  Apparently, City of Edinburgh council has Meadowbank booked til Tuesday.  Contingency planning, we understand, for mechanical failures and recounts.

A tale of two cities’ manifestos

To save you the trouble, dear reader, I’ve perused the Glasgow and Edinburgh SNP manifestos (the Latin scholar in me wants to spell it “manifestoes”) cover to cover.  They contain a lot of words.

Which is not necessarily to put you off.  But nonetheless there are a lot of words.  I’m not all that keen at the block capitals in the Edinburgh vision statement either:  makes me feel like I’m being lectured or worse, shouted at.

A lot of these words are good ones and fortunately, neither document smacks (too much) of having been written by committee.  Both suffer, however, from a lack of a summary of key pledges.  You have to unearth them.  From in amongst all the words.

It’s not easy writing a manifesto for our two largest cities when your party is running the government nationally.  Harder still, when there isn’t a lot of money to throw around.  Edinburgh knows this from its last five years in shared power;  Glasgow knows it or at least suspects it because councillors have had some difficulty persuading Labour, still clinging to the last vestiges of power, to open up the books.

Because of this, and also because there is a big chance of actually having to deliver on its manifesto pledges, there is a lot of hedge-betting in Glasgow SNP’s manifesto.  Lots of “we will encourage”, “we would enter into dialogue”, “greater use could be made” feature throughout the document.

So, what we get really is a retread of things we have heard before.  The council tax freeze;  the living wage;  no compulsory redundancies for council workers; at least 600 hours of nursery education for 3 and 4 year olds;  jobs and training for young people – all the big pledges are present and correct.  This is not a grumble:  the links in the chain running from national to local government have often been missing.  This connectivity, of joining up from national to local and back again is actually very welcome: it should ensure that things get done and that voters know exactly what to expect.

These aside, both manifestos lack a really big idea.  Something unique to their cities that captures the imagination.  That gives us all something to get excited about.

Edinburgh SNP decided its big headline was the promise to “take forward vital roadworks at points of key strategic importance in the City, in order to make Edinburgh as attractive a place to invest as possible, backed by an increased Road Maintenance fund of £20m“.  Vote SNP, get roadworks, more of them.  i’m not sure that this is actually a vote winner, speaking as a commuter who has seen bus journeys to and from work increase from 40 minutes to an hour and a half and more (on a bad night), largely because half the city is currently being dug up.

There is a sense abroad that SNP candidates across the country just need to turn up in order to sweep the board.  Certainly, the party is not taking anything for granted.  All across Glasgow, Edinburgh and everywhere else, there are thousands of hopefuls and activists out pounding pavements, knocking on doors and delivering forest-fuls of leaflets.  The STV system makes these elections hard to call, but there is no doubt that the party is in the ascendancy, still.  There is no sign of a dip in form for the SNP in these elections.

The fact that it can scent power in both cities has resulted in cautious, yet sturdy manifestos.  Where both score highly is in judging the public mood.  Change is in the air, with people in these austerity times opting for something different.  No swagger please, we’re Scottish.

In Glasgow in particular, there is a real sense of Labour’s time being up and of a quiet determination (as there was in the 2007 Holyrood elections) from the electorate of throwing them out.  Folk have had enough of the monolithic, municipal approach – it’s a tradition Edinburgh Labour dumped a long time ago.  Now it’s Glasgow’s turn.  For sure, STV and the existence of a bedrock vote that can be strongarmed to the polls still exists.  It will be enough to ensure that Labour still has a presence in the City Chambers.

While there is a candidness about what can and cannot be delivered, there is still a real sense of positivity about the future in the SNP’s manifestos for both cities.  Neither are promising the people rose gardens but they are making solemn and steadfast commitments.

In Edinburgh, the pledge amounts to this:  “if the SNP forms the Administration after the election, we will be guided in what we do by our ambition and sense of responsibility to this great city and its people.  They are entitled to effective and efficient services from a financially secure Council that plays a full part in building a more prosperous future in which everyone benefits.  That is what the SNP stands for in this election.”

In Glasgow, Cllr Allison Hunter in her introduction to the manifesto, states:  “… our manifesto wasn’t drawn up on the basis of the priorities that we want to see.  It is based on the priorities that you have told us you want to see… Our manifesto also sets out our commitment to be open and upfront with you abour our plans…. We all know that Glasgow has its problems and I’m not going to make any false promises… But we can create a more successful future working constructively with the people of Glasgow and with our colleagues in the Council and in the Scottish Government.  Together, we can let Glasgow flourish.

At these local elections, the SNP is offering Scotland’s two biggest cities no quick or big fixes, no big bangs, no smash n grab for votes.

It’s offering something much more precious, something voters have been seeking in local government for a while.

Trust and transparency.  Here’s hoping the party and its councillors can deliver.