The Livingston by-election

The Livingston by-election

Jim Devine (Lab), Angela Constance (SNP)Labour should be strong enough in Cook’s old seat

Recent reports have forecast that the by-election to fill the Livingston seat of the late Robin Cook will take place on 29th September. Betting is not available yet, but a few bookies normally run by-election markets once the date is formally set.

The two main candidates (pictured to the right) will be Labour’s Jim Devine – previously Robin Cook’s election agent – and Angela Constance of the SNP, who fought the seat for the party at the General Election in May. The result then saw Labour win by a margin of almost 30% of the votes cast, with Cook winning 51.1% to Constance’s 21.6%. The 15% swing the SNP needs is not outside the bounds of what can sometimes be achieved in by-elections, but there are good reaons for thinking that Labour will hold the seat. With only a few months gone since the General Election, anti-government feeling has not built up much beyond what was there in May. Devine, with a background in the constituency, is not the sort of parachuted-in candidate often on the losing end of by-election shocks. And a sense of sympathy over the loss of Cook will probably keep up turnout among Labour voters, avoiding the highly differential turnout that often defeats governments at by-elections.

Third-placed in May, on 15.4% of the vote was the Liberal Democrat Charles Dundas, who is standing again. Though in the last parliament, the Liberal Democrats were able to jump from third place to beat Labour (or at least run close) in several by-elections (Brent East, Hartlepool, Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill) that was in the context of a protest vote that would not naturally find a home with the Conservatives. Here the SNP should have less trouble picking up what movement away from Labour there is. The Lib Dem chief executive and by-election strategist Chris Rennard is playing down the party’s prospects, talking only of a chance of finishing ahead of the SNP. He hasn’t said how that will be presented on bar charts.

A possible complication is the by-election for the Glasgow Cathcart seat in the Scottish Parliament: the incumbent MSP, Mike Watson, announced his intention to resign yesterday after pleading guilty to a criminal charge of wilful fireraising. Though the Westminster seat for this constituency was once held by the Conservative Teddy Taylor, Labour won the Holyrood seat comfortably in 2003, with 39.2% of the vote to the SNP’s 16.3%. However, that year was a low point for the SNP, and given the circumstances making the seat vacant, they may fancy their chances of taking it in a by-election. Labour may consider trying to overstretch the SNP’s resources by forcing both by-elections on the same day.

Thank you from me

I’ll write round-up articles on Saturday and Sunday, and don’t forget that our prediction competition is open until Saturday night. But this will be my last weekday article before Mike Smithson returns from his holiday in France. I’d like to thank Mike for asking me to look after during his break. It has been great fun, whilst leaving me in no doubt of the hard work Mike has put in for the last year and a half to build such an excellent website. Thanks also to Robert Smithson for his technical support of the site. The couple of technical problems we have had have been very swiftly fixed by Robert.

Trying to write articles which are still up to date when I publish them, particularly on the Conservative leadership election, has led me to appreciate how our analysis and predictions often move slower than events themselves. I feel for the character of Brigadier Ernest Pudding in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow:

He started in on a mammoth work entitled Things That Can Happen in European Politics. Begin, of course, with England, “First,” he wrote, “Bereshith [in the beginning], as it were: Ramsay MacDonald can die.”

By the time he went through resulting party alignments and possible permutations of cabinet posts, Ramsay MacDonald had died.

Lastly, I would like to thank everybody who has read and commented on the articles here over the last two weeks. The discussion section is a marvellous community, and needless to say I am not disappearing – I shall certainly still be contributing to the comments, political and otherwise, as much as I can.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.

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