There has been a huge amount of analysis in the weekend papers about the result in the Glenrothes by-election. Most commentators seem to concentrate on Alex Salmonds' arrogance or on Labour stirring up a local council issue of community care fees, rather than Westminster issues. Others refer to the Brown Bounce and the financial crisis. I feel that all of the commentators, whatever their political bias, have missed one crucial factor. The most shocking figure in the by-election was the turnout!
The average turnout for the whole of the UK in the 2005 general election was 62%. Glenrothes was one of those constituencies that dragged the average down. Only 55% of the good folk of the constituency bothered to vote. In by-elections, turnout is usually considerably lower. The average by-election turnout in the UK for the past 10years was just 38%, it would not have been surprising if fewer than 30% voted in Glenrothes. But in this by election the vote was only just down on the constituency's 2005 turnout at 53%.
The SNP was not expecting to get more than the 13,000 vote that it had. Both SNP and Labour returns were showing that level of support. With a 38-45% turnout 13K would have given the SNP it's expected win. What went wrong for the SNP and gave Labour the victory was that about 8,000 people who shouldn't have voted in a by-election did vote.
Nobody from any of the parties, or amongst the pundits, saw this extra vote coming. When the polls close the expectation was that it was in the bag for the SNP. So where did this extra surge come from?
One could go for the conspiracy or fiddle theories, I suspect that it has more to do with boozing!
The people least likely to register on canvas returns are the under 25 year old voters. When they are at home their Mams or their Dads will answer the door or phone to canvassers. Many of them are absent voters in their collage residences.
Usually it doesn't matter because they don't bother to vote anyway. But with the SNP's policy (opposed by its own student group) to raise the legal drinking age to 21, I suspect that many of the unexpected votes came from young voters.
I respect the SNP's commitment to tackle Scotland's binge drinking culture, there is no doubt that it needs to be tackled, but it is a fact that the nationalist vote is also the youngest vote in Scottish (and Welsh) politics. The SNP needs to look at ways in which to address the drink culture in a way that doesn't demonise the young, because if it loses its youth vote (as I suspect it did in Glenrothes) then it will find itself up the world famous creek without a paddle!