Seeing the Liberal Democrats poll 2.2% of the vote in a town that elected the first Liberal Provost in Scotland and has had continual Council representation from my party for nearly 50 years is something that I find a little hard to take. My grandfather was born and grew up in Greenock and could remember when the area was represented by a Liberal MP. Having been a Communist at one stage and having witnessed Labour's rise to power as a young man, he was surprised when I told him that the Council had been run by Lib Dems in recent years
The press referred to Inverclyde as a Labour stronghold throughout the campaign and in some respects were right to do so. The seat has been Labour-held for 76 years and in 2010 they polled well over half of the votes cast. This obscures the fact that Inverclyde Council was Liberal Democrat-run until 2007 and on a couple of occasions in the '70s and '80s the Liberals came very close to taking the seat at Westminster. It's not an Ayrshire Central or a West Dunbartonshire where until recently Labour had ruled unchallenged for decades.
If this by-election had been held at any point from 1970 up until about 5 or 6 years ago the Lib Dems would have been the main challengers to Labour and would have more than likely been able to take the seat. Yesterday our vote collapsed towards the SNP and we ended up in fourth place. Given that this is what happened across Scotland less than two months ago, I doubt if anyone was even particularly surprised.
I think Sophie Bridger was a good candidate. More could have been made of popular local Lib Dems like Ross Finnie and Alan Blair and I think we focussed too much fire on the SNP, but all in all I don't think that the campaign was the issue either. The problem is that most people who vote Lib Dem (or SNP) in Scotland are more anti-Labour voters than pro-anything voters. The SNP have neutralised their negatives by putting independence on the back-burner and governing competently and entirely unremarkably for 4 years. The Lib Dems have acquired new negatives by entering government at a time of necessary fiscal retrenchment. As a result the Scottish non-Labour vote has switched en masse.
I suspect the more power-hungry Nationalists will be rueing the fact that they are committed to holding a referendum on Independence in this term of office. If the Liberal leadership at Westminster are successful in communicating a long term strategy that follows from our current policies and the economy continues to pick up then by 2015 things could look very different. The SNP vote is just as soft as ours and a sudden switch back to the Liberal Democrats is perfectly possible.
Labels: By-election, Inverclyde, Liberal Democrats