Encouraging news from Glenrothes where - in case the world financial crisis and tales of Russian oligarchs had made you forget - a byelection campaign is in full swing.
Today’s Herald reports bookies saying Labour is beginning to draw level in the odds with the SNP, with a William Hill spokesman saying: ‘Since Gordon Brown went up to Glenrothes we have not taken a penny on the SNP and a Labour victory now looks on the cards.’ All of which calls into question predictions that the party was certain to suffer another crushing defeat.
One reason for Labour’s rising prospects could be the economic crisis, Brown’s handling of which has seen his poll ratings rise significantly.
Furthermore, as Judith Fisher points out in her recent Progress column, the economic crisis has called into serious question the SNP's independence campaign, exposing it as a perilous course of action at a time when states are ever more reliant on one another. ‘The idea of cutting ourselves off from our largest trading partner seem a ludicrous proposition at a time when even the US is being pulled in to a coordination of fiscal policy,’ she writes, adding: ‘In an independent Scotland, both RBS and HBOS would have failed. We would not have had the capital for either to be nationalised or secured. It’s likely that our financial institutions would have faced the same plight as Iceland’s.
But the main reason for the campaign’s progress may lie in its resolute focus on local issues, reminding voters of the shortcomings of the the SNP-led council. As BBC political correspondent Iain Watson observed when he interviewed members of a social club in the constituency: ‘What I’d stumbled upon was the result of a key element of Labour's campaign in the constituency. It was not all about the prime minister being the man to lead us through difficult times. It was instead much more focussed on attacking the SNP-led local council.’
Labour’s candidate, Lindsay Roy, told Watson that this was the key difference between the Glenrothes and the Glasgow East campaigns. ‘Here, the SNP have a track record to defend,’ he said. ‘They run the local council. People don’t trust them - they are imposing charges on the elderly.’
Watson concluded: ‘From my limited experience, it seemed like these campaign messages were hitting home with some voters.’
Interestingly, one of the pledges the SNP is using to woo Glenrothes voters is to reduce prescription charges and eventually abolish them altogether, a measure that Lord Lipsey, writing in the latest edition of Progress magazine, argues wastes money and does not end up helping those most in need (you can read the article on the Progress website tomorrow).