You may be tired of opinions – and, frankly, I wouldn’t blame you – so
I propose to give you a few facts instead. One of the most astonishing
is that there are, or seem to be, 12,404 Tories in Kilmarnock.
At the general election of 2015, there were only 6,752 Tories in Kilmarnock, most of them in the bought houses up the Glasgow Road and out towards Rugby Park. That I could accept, just about. But 12,404? You – or rather they – have to be joking. There must be thousands of people in Kilmarnock who aren’t Tories who nevertheless voted Tory last Thursday.
I mention Kilmarnock for two reasons. The first is that, for years, it was the personal fiefdom of the long-serving Labour secretary of state, Willie Ross, who rejoiced in two nicknames. Harold Wilson called him Old Basso Profundo on account of his booming voice and thunderous air, but I never discovered the source of his other sobriquet, the ‘Hammer of the Nats’. Ross loathed the nationalists, branding them ‘Tartan Tories’ – a sticky label that only came unstuck with the arrival of Alex Salmond.
But the Ross hammer turned out to be a blunt instrument. His seat has been SNP since 2015, a nationalist represents the town in the Scottish parliament, and the local council (East Ayrshire, the one with the woman from the Rubbish party) is run by a minority SNP administration. Old Basso Profundo died before any of these events unfolded, sparing him needless anguish.
Compared with most of the large towns of post-industrial Scotland,
Kilmarnock has done rather well out of the SNP. It no longer produces
carpets – that floor covering on which so much political blood is spilled – or high-quality shoes; and it no longer bottles intoxicating liquor. I'd guess that the main local employers these days are the council and the NHS. Yet, away from its dismal bus station, the town centre has been transformed by public investment in a refurbished main thoroughfare, community business start-ups (including a bookshop on the platform of the railway station) and a superb new college, recently opened by Nicola Sturgeon, on the site of the old Johnnie Walker plant.
Which brings me to the second reason for mentioning Kilmarnock: the fact that, of the 25 seats held by the SNP in which Labour came second, the SNP’s biggest majority was achieved there. Kilmarnock showed its gratitude to Scotland’s governing party by re-electing the obscure Alan Brown, whose accent was recently reported to be so impenetrable that little he says in the pleasure palace of Westminster can be understood. Mr Brown's reputation in his constituency will have been enhanced by this amusing disclosure. I suspect, though, that the main reason for his political survival is a local feeling that the town's regeneration owes much to practical initiatives by his party.
Yet, in saying that the SNP's best result was in Kilmarnock, I am not saying very much. Mr Brown’s vote was down 10,000, the Unionist parties together polled 8,000 more than he did, and a majority of 6,269 fell short of spectacular. As best results go, it wasn’t hugely impressive.
Elsewhere, we have an embarrassing choice of shoogly tartan pegs: the SNP ahead by 60 in Glasgow South West, 75 in Glasgow East, 118 in Motherwell and Wishaw, 195 in Airdrie and Shotts, 384 in Inverclyde, 844 in Dunfermline, 1,060 in Glasgow North. All but one of these new SNP marginals are in the deprived west, which Ms Sturgeon mistakenly imagined she had captured for the foreseeable future. If a second election were held tomorrow, all seven would probably fall to a resurgent Labour party.
Dundee, in common with Kilmarnock, bears the visible evidence of regeneration which has coincided with a decade of nationalist rule at Holyrood. It is perhaps no coincidence that both Dundee seats are still fairly safe for the SNP. Likewise the former new towns – Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Livingston, Glenrothes – which have benefited in varying degrees from the introduction of clean new industries, remain loyal to the project.
It is equally noticeable, however, that in less prosperous parts of SNP Scotland nothing looks as secure for the party as it did. The Labour manifesto, despite the derision heaped on it (though not in this space, where it received a relatively warm welcome, together with a forecast that it would prove electorally popular), persuaded some of the fickle tribe to return to its ancestral homeland. As long as Jezza is around, expect that drift back to continue – and maybe accelerate.
What makes Labour's modest but unforeseen recovery more remarkable is
that it happened without external assistance. One of the few regrets of Team Corbyn is that it didn’t pour more resources into Scotland. How galling for Labour HQ that, with a bit of effort, seven seats won north of the border might easily have been 14 or more, all at the SNP's expense. With so much low-hanging fruit suddenly there for the picking, the strategic error of writing off the Scots will not be repeated in the event of an early return to the polls.
Who, then, won the election in Scotland? Certainly not Nicola Sturgeon, who paid a heavy price for her intransigence in pushing a second referendum. The immediate beneficiary of Ms Sturgeon's myopia and unfortunate appearance of smugness is Ruth Davidson, new darling of the metropolitan media, who is being hailed as a political superstar, and with some justification. But if you boringly stick to the facts, the prospects for Ms Davidson are not exactly alluring. The Tories came second in only nine SNP-held seats, of which several are beyond their reach, so it is hard to see much if any advance on 13, especially if the government she supports fails to pull itself together.
The real winner – the one with the maths and the momentum – is a person routinely dismissed as an irrelevance, of whom and from whom we hear very little. It is odd to have to acknowledge that the person in question now has a sporting chance of being Scotland’s next first minister. The name (in case you’ve forgotten, which you very well might) is Kezia Dugdale.