Why did the SNP lose Glasgow North East so badly? My column in The Sunday Times explores that issue, here is a taster:
The government plans to unveil legislation for an independence referendum on St Andrew’s Day, yet the subject was hardly mentioned in Glasgow North East. Unionists believe the referendum is an expensive diversion. The SNP could seize the initiative and present it as an economic opportunity. Scotland, a small country with natural resources in oil and renewable energy, could arguably adapt to the post-recession world more easily than England, whose fortunes are distorted by the City of London. That means tackling difficult matters such as how to rebuild those banks. Should a nationalised rump of RBS be transferred to Holyrood control? Should we have state development banks like Germany? What should they fund to replace financial services as an major employer?
A take-no-prisoners SNP campaign would argue that these banks ceased to be particularly Scottish when they operated under the City of London’s lax rules. We could have regulated them ourselves had we been independent. We could have saved them ourselves without much pain as, being independent, we’d have built up an oil fund like Norway. It’s hypothetical, but there is an election round the corner.
Even countries without the Norwegian cushion, such as Ireland and Iceland, saved their banks without incurring national debt levels as drastic as Britain’s predicted £2.3 trillion. UK debt is a higher percentage of GDP than other countries’ and it’s accumulating at a rate of more than £6,000 a second. A fighting SNP might respond to such figures with a slogan such as: “Can Scotland afford to stay in the Union?”
It’s negative. It says little about the competence of the devolved administration. But it does have a certain bite.
On the by-election night, I mentioned on the Newsnight Scotland special that the party got overwhelmed by a parochial agenda. Although judging from campaigners such as Bellegrove Belle, who did a lot of doorstepping, Labour's messages did have an effect on voters.
"Rip off Glasgow" may be the politics of grievance, but it worked and the nats will need to find a way to grab back the agenda, perhas by pointing out more that the cancellation of GARL is the fault of a budget settlement devised by London. They will be accused of "picking fights with London". But what can be more divisive than stirring up resentment between Glasgow and Edinburgh? As Brian Talor put it in his Blether Blog this was an example of exploiting single transferable prejudice.
The SNP should try presenting independence as a positive alternative to life in bankrupt Britain. Subrosa agrees with me. So does Gordon Wilson, the former leader, who argues here that ministers are too focused on parliament, when politics is really on the street. This is what he told Scotland on Sunday.
"Around about nine months ago, the SNP should have led the attack on Labour on the budget cuts. It should have railed about how Britain is bankrupt," says Wilson.
"If you are in whatever layer of government and you have to cut a local facility you are going to get the blame for it. Well, I believe in preemptive strikes which should have taken place nine months ago to fix the blame on London and the British state."
He adds: "They might have been able to tell people that it was Labour that was doing the cutting. On the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, we should have turned around to Iain Gray (the Scottish Labour leader] and said yes, you have a good point about it, so why don't you get onto Alistair Darling and ask him for £300 million more?" Wilson says he fears that the SNP leadership may be getting bogged down with the daily grind of parliamentary and ministerial paper-work. "Having been in parliament you tend to associate politics with the parliament. Politics is on the street and perhaps they ought to get out more," he added.
For those who prefer to blame the voters, however, here is Andrew Nicoll, the political editor of The Sun in Scotland, who spoke for many SNP activists with his morning-after opinion piece What do Labour have to do before the people of Glasgow North East stop voting for them? It's good, passionate stuff, but I think I prefer Gerry Hassan's analysis in the Guardian.
In the comment section below, Wardog backs Andrew Nicoll's critique...but his own blog suggests a way forward. "Labour's negative campaign didn't just attack the SNP it brought the focus of Westminister, even though this election was for a Westminister seat, away from Brown & Co. This is partly due to the media in Scotland not holding Labour fully to account, in England there record would have been savaged by the press as it was in Norwich only a few months beforehand but it must also form a key part of the SNP Campaign strategy."
Jeff at SNP Tactical voting suggests the nationalists should drop their plans for a referendum just as they abandoned the local income tax. I disagree, but he argues his point well.
* The image is from the award winning movie Red Road, which is setting the the Petershill area of the constituence