Left Foot Forward's Ed Jacobs interviews the candidates ahead of Thursday's Inverclyde by-election, caused by the tragic death of David Cairns.
This Thursday voters in the Scottish constituency of Inverclyde will go to the polls following the sad and untimely death of the former Scotland Office Minister, the respected Labour MP, David Cairns.
On paper, it should be an interesting and hotly fought contest between the SNP and Scottish Labour, being the first electoral battle for a parliamentary seat since the SNP stormed to victory in May’s elections to Holyrood – the first to do so as a single majority party.
With both and Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all but resigned to defeat, the race is, as argued (£) by the FT’s Scotland Correspondent, Andrew Bolger, a two horse race, one in which the stakes for both Alex Salmond and Ed Miliband are high.
For Salmond, the race is simple, an opportunity for voters to send a message that the people want Holyrood, rather than Westminster, to enjoy the levers of economic power for Scotland.
Speaking last weekend at the party’s National Council in Inverclyde the first minister and SNP leader argued:
“Last month’s election saw Scotland take a step forward.
“On 30th June voters in Inverclyde can vote to keep Inverclyde moving forward, to add to the country’s momentum and to put pressure on the Tories to transfer the job creating powers areas like Inverclyde need to the SNP Government as soon as possible.”
Ed Miliband, on the other hand, has a delicate task to perform. Having seen his party lose seats at Holyroo – in part as a result of a strategy which went all guns blazing for the Conservatives before switching halfway through to concentrating on the SNP – how Labour handle the Inverclyde by-election will be keenly watched.
Having had such a loss to the nationalists, the temptation for Labour to avoid is to concentrate on the SNP – the context for this election remains different.
It is one in which the contest should focus on Westminster, where the issue will be who can best oppose a Conservative-led administration. Having seen its share of the vote increase in Scotland at the 2010 General election, the message for Labour is that it is they, rather than the SNP, that Scots turn to when the principle threat comes from Conservatives.
Hence Ed Miliband’s remarks on a recent visit to the constituency, in which he argued:
“I know many families and pensioners here in Inverclyde are hurting, and hurting in the face of risky and unfair Tory cuts. We need a plan B on the economy to help people right across the country. There is now no coherent plan for growth.
“David Cameron’s plan to cut spending too far and too fast is a reckless gamble with people’s jobs and livelihoods, and it is making things worse, not better.
“The next generation needs opportunities, chances and hope. Yet people here see VAT up, child benefit frozen, tax credits cut and bills going up…”
But perhaps the defining feature of the by election could be how it fails to inspire the electorate of Incerclyde.
As Hamish MacDonell, writing recently in the Caledonian Mercury explains:
“The political parties are trying hard to engage the public’s attention – but, after such a momentous Scottish election just a month ago, even they are finding it hard to generate any enthusiasm for the contest.”
“However, despite all the signals emerging from the banks of the Clyde that this will be one of the dullest by-election campaigns of recent times, there remains a possibility that things may change.
“It can sometimes only take the intervention of one figure or a gaffe by the frontrunner to turn a soporific non-contest into the by-election of the decade.
“One has to hope, anyway.”
The question is, will Inverclyde prove a shock result, in much the same way that the SNP’s victory in the 2008 Glasgow East by-election led to what the Guardian dubbed a “massive blow to Gordon Brown’s leadership”; or will it be a Glasgow North East, a by-election won in 2009 by Labour’s Willie Bain , hailed across much of the Labour Party as a sign that they weren’t down and out.
Whilst a win would be welcome news, Labour should be wary of seeing victory as representative of what is happening across the rest of the UK, for the same reasons as those outlined on Left Foot Forward following Willie Bain’s victory.
And what of the candidates? Left Foot Forward surveyed the opinion of those from the main parties.
For Labour, its candidate, the leader of the local council, Iain McKenzie, it is crime and the economy that top the agenda on the campaign trail.
He told Left Foot Forward:
“As a local candidate in this election, I’ve got a clear action plan for Inverclyde. My top priority is to get Inverclyde working again, bringing new employers and quality jobs to the area.
“I am also pushing hard for a tough crack down on crime. Taking on the drug dealers, more police patrols, and stricter penalties for violent and knife crime are key.
“I’ll work for a better future for young people, building on what I have already achieved as council leader getting new schools built for our kids.
“I’d be a strong voice against unfair Tory cuts at Westminster and I’m backing Labour’s calls for an emergency VAT cut to get the economy moving. Most of all I always do what’s best for Inverclyde, not what’s best for Westminster.”
In launching his campaign, the Conservative candidate, Cllr. David Wilson, gave what amounted to a policy-free statement, deciding instead to talk up his qualities as a candidate that would fight for his constituents.
“It is a privilege to represent this area as Depute Provost on Inverclyde Council. It would be an honour to be its MP.
“My priority will always be to stand up for the people and to do everything in my power to take Inverclyde forward to an even brighter future.”
For the Liberal Democrats, the mantra being used is one of change, arguing it is only they that offer an alternative to Labour and the SNP.
Dubbed a “rising star”, the party’s candidate, Sophie Bridger, commented:
“I am very proud to have been selected to stand as the candidate for the Scottish Liberal Democrats here in Inverclyde. I have the commitment, the drive and the expertise to be an effective MP for the area.
“For too long this area has been abandoned by Labour, and the SNP have been all talk but no action, cutting vital services and regeneration funding.
“It is time that Inverclyde had an MP who stood up for them – Liberal Democrats have real solutions and voters here can put their faith in the younger generation to fight for Inverclyde.”
The SNP, meanwhile, have Labour firmly in their sights, with their candidate, the former Glasgow MSP, Anne McLaughlin, explaining:
“This by-election is about who is best placed to protect local households and deliver jobs and investment to Inverclyde. People here know the SNP is working to make life better for local households with a council tax freeze, protection for local health services and more police on the beat.
“As Inverclyde’s MP, I will work hard for local communities on the issues that matter like soaring fuel and energy bills and the threat to the local coastguard service.
“Labour are out of power and out of touch.
“With a Labour candidate who is in coalition with the Tories and planning to hit local council workers with compulsory redundancies, it is only by sending an SNP representative to Westminster that Inverclyde can build on the progress of the last four years and win a more powerful voice for people across the constituency.”
Voters in Inverclyde will vote this Thursday; polls will be open between 7am and 10pm. For a full list of candidates see here.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.