The Story the Media Should Have Told You About Glasgow
May 7th 2012
The story of the recent Scottish elections was clear and unambiguous: voters are returning home to Labour and the SNP honeymoon is over. All of this is magnified in the Glasgow result: Labour holding or as most of the media interpreted it ‘gaining’ back the city it had briefly lost.
All of this ‘analysis’ was done with no breakdown of the Scottish local election party share of the vote; no doubt we will have to wait until David Denver’s research several months down the line for this.
Despite the preponderance of Glasgow in political and media spin there has also been no detailed breakdown of vote changes in Scotland’s biggest city. This short piece provides that analysis and is done not to claim that the city speaks for Scotland but merely to offer the actual figures for debate and wider understanding.
First lets take party share of vote (Table One). Labour won 47.91% of the vote to the SNP’s 31.76%. This represents an increase in the Labour vote of 4.6% and for the Nationalists of 7.18%: amounting to a swing of 1.29% from Labour to the SNP.
|Table One: Glasgow Party Share of Vote (Percentage) 2007-12|
|Party 2007 2012 Change|
|Labour 43.31 47.91 + 4.60|
|SNP 24.58 31.76 + 7.18|
|Conservative 7.67 6.07 – 1.60|
|Green 6.48 5.67 – 0.81|
|Lib Dem 7.91 2.99 – 4.92|
|Others 10.04 5.60 – 4.44|
Second if we look at the real change in actual votes of people rather than percentages a more complex picture emerges. All the parties lost votes in Glasgow on Thursday but some lost more votes than others (see Table Two).
Labour’s vote across the city fell from 81,393 to 67,612, a decline of 13,781; the SNP’s vote from 46,185 to 44,827, a fall of 1,358; these represent falls of percentage wise 16.93% for Labour from 2007 and 2.94% for the SNP.
|Table Two: Glasgow Party Share of Vote (Actual Numbers) 2007-12|
|Party 2007 2012 Change|
|Labour 81,393 67,612 – 13,781|
|SNP 46,185 44,827 – 1,358|
|Conservative 14,412 8,567 – 5,845|
|Green 12,183 7,999 – 4,184|
|Lib Dem 14,864 4,221 – 10,643|
|Others 18,879 7,902 – 10,977|
|Total 187,916 141,128 – 46,788|
The Lib Dem vote fell by 10,643 representing a collapse of 71.60% from five years ago. However, if you think the voter rejection of the Lib Dems is marked, spare a thought for the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity who once combined as a powerful electoral force. The former lost 83.5% of their previous vote, but this was easily surpassed by the latter, Solidarity who lost an impressive 93.0% of their 2007 vote.
Then there were the forces of ‘Glasgow First’, mostly made of former Labour councillors, who won a mere 2,544 votes with 20 candidates giving them a miniscule 1.80% of the vote.
Therefore the Glasgow local elections, like Scotland overall, paint a rich, complicated picture last Thursday, but one the media didn’t spend time exploring. Instead, it went with the by-lines and clichés of their own simplifications, spinning about the ‘spin’ of party politicians as much of what passes for contemporary media analysis does.
Labour won Glasgow and polled relatively well versus expectations and its opponents. The Nationalists walked into a trap mostly of their own making. Yet it is also true that the pattern of Labour’s success in Glasgow does not provide a basis for Labour’s fightback. Labour’s success was based on getting a significant part of its existing vote out in a declining turnout: a ‘base’ strategy which paid the party a decent dividend last week but doesn’t offer much for the future.
What Labour did do was two things; one it managed the war of expectations and outmanoeuvred an over-reaching SNP; second, it has as Johann Lamont recognised post-election engaged in a successful defensive blockade which has bought it time. Labour has been ‘running on empty’ in terms of resources and ideas post-2011 election and it has despite this managed to blunt the SNP advance.
The lessons for the SNP are complex. They have a Glasgow/West of Scotland problem which is deep seated, 2011 apart. The threshold they have they have to cross has been lowered by the weakening of the Labour voting bloc across a range of socio-economic characteristics. Yet at the same time winning in Glasgow has been made more difficult by the decline of the Tories. To put this in perspective when Labour previously lost control of Glasgow council in 1968 and 1977, the Nationalist vote percentage wise was much as it is now; then the city had a multi-party politics with a strong Tory presence. Today with two big parties such levels of support leaves the Nationalists significantly behind Labour.
Finally, an observation about the mainstream media’s role. We need more than following headlines and spin; that doesn’t amount to much of a contribution to the democratic debate. The Glasgow story is a fascinating one; it holds lessons and challenges for all Scotland’s parties. It was a story the media choose not to tell.