I had for some time thought it was likely that Labour would win the Glasgow North East by-election. The biggest sign that they thought they were on to a dead cert was the fact that they were quite happy for Glasgow Labour MP, Tom Harris, to spend polling day evening tweeting from the Will Young concert at the SECC. I did cruelly joke that maybe they wanted him out of the way, but if you think the result is going to be close, you'll get every single pair of legs out there knocking on doors.
You would think, wouldn't you, that if the SNP were as good as their hype suggests, they would have given Labour a closer run for their money. After all, this was just a few miles from the seat where, last year, they snatched a memorable victory from Labour. It would have been a challenge for them to win as safe a Labour seat as you can get, but you would have expected them to come at least within 1000 votes. Instead they languished on barely a third of Labour's vote. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Holyrood Government.
Since John Mason's victory in Glasgow East, however, things haven't gone well for them. They failed to win Glenrothes just over a year ago, something which again should have been easy for them especially as they hold the Scottish Parliament seat of Central Fife. They threw the kitchen sink at that campaign only to have their hopes dashed.
In a Council by-election in Inverness earlier this year, they got their backsides well and truly whipped by Liberal Democrat Alasdair Christie, barely getting a third of his vote. They made no impact whatever in an Aberdeenshire Council by-election won by Liberal Democrat Rosemary Bruce on the same day.
The Glasgow North East result, declared at just before 2am, was very disappointing for the SNP, signalling that the juggernaut which came to a standstill in Glenrothes is still in dire need of spark plugs. Westminster governments don't come much more unpopular than Labour at the moment, yet the SNP, who had actually contested the seat in 2005 unlike anyone else, so they had a bit of a base there,couldn't even get the same number of people to get out and vote for them. Their percentage did increase but not significantly. I expect they will privately be extremely disappointed with their performance.
They'll try and make themselves feel better by having a go at the Liberal Democrats for coming behind the BNP. That, I admit, was not a great result for us. We had a candidate who had just the right experience in social work and community regeneration that the community needed. She worked tirelessly during the campaign, getting out there and knocking on doors. Looking at our campaign from the outside, it seems to me that it was not as well resourced as other by-elections had been. We'll see when the election expenses are submitted, but I'd be surprised if we'd spent a tenth of the £100,000 limit. Labour and the SNP will have spent much, much more and I expect the Tories will have put in a lot more than we did too. You don't get such marked disparity of expenditure in a normal election where the limit is about an eighth of that. I wonder if they think that their money was well spent. They didn't stand in 2005, but the Scottish Unionist Party did, and got almost 5%. I suspect that people who made that choice 4 years ago would be more likely to vote Tory. The Tories got just over 5% yesterday. It's hardly progress.
We weren't able to establish ourselves quickly as the main challengers and so consequently found ourselves slugging it out in the midfield. It's not great, but it's not a result that causes me a huge amount of concern. It's not as if we were isolated at the bottom of the heap. There were only around 700 votes between the Tories in 3rd and the Greens in 7th. In 2005 just under 1000 were prepared to vote for the fascist BNP. This time it was just over 1000. While I don't like the fact that people choose to support their message of hate, there's no evidence of a great drift towards them. The contest took place in Tommy Sheridan's natural stomping ground yet he and the Scottish Socialist combined couldn't get 1000 votes where they had nearly 5,500 votes 4 years ago.
The SNP is not going to be able to hide behind the performance of others in this by-election for long. Their performance on every level was shocking and they will have to ask themselves some very searching questions. The whole campaign, from their botched selection onwards, was not of the required standard.
And as for Labour, a comfortable result in one of their safest seats is hardly indicative of a ringing endorsement of the Government. You would expect them to hang on convincingly in their stronghold, but at some time in the next 6 months, they'll be tested in the marginals, places like Edinburgh South, where Fred Mackintosh is just over 400 votes behind Labour, like Edinburth North and Leith, where Kevin Lang is mounting a strong challenge to Labour from a strong second place.
You can't extrapolate much from a by-election in a seat like Glasgow North East, especially after a campaign which failed to engage over 2/3 of the electorate. Labour were lucky to come up against a fairly incompetent SNP campaign in one of their strongholds and would be foolish to think that all is well in their world. The General Election with its wider media scrutiny and exposure will bring better fortune for the Liberal Democrats. It's the SNP who will be seriously worried at their failure to persuade people to vote for them.