Thursday 29 June 2017

From a ripple to a wave, how Sturgeon surge swamped Labour

Scottish First Minister and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon and candidate Hannah Bardell (left) visiting a nursery while campaigning in the UK general election
Scottish First Minister and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon and candidate Hannah Bardell (left) visiting a nursery while campaigning in the UK general election

Dan Hodges

Gordon Brown's house lies at the top of a winding road in the picturesque village of North Queensferry. It's easy to spot, with its bright, shiny red door, and little cluster of security cameras around the gate.

For the last two decades Mr Brown has been able to look out watchfully, from its upper windows, across to his constituency. The securest constituency in the strongest Labour region in all of the United Kingdom. But if the opinion polls are right, some time after 10:00 pm this Thursday, that final Scottish redoubt will fall. Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, current Labour majority 23,009, will be seized by the Scottish National Party.

Sitting in his campaign office - surrounded by leaflets, stuffed envelopes and the rest of his campaign paraphernalia - the SNP's candidate, Roger Mullin, isn't exactly hurling himself at the parapets. "Difficult to say. We've been helped by the Ashcroft poll," is his low-key response to my question about whether or not he's about to shatter the mould of British politics.

The poll he refers to was published on March 4. It showed Mr Mullin six points ahead of his Labour opponent, Kenny Selbie. Had a flying saucer descended and obliterated Edinburgh Castle with its death-ray, it could not have sent such a shockwave through the Scottish political establishment.

Mr Mullin's office is located in the centre of Kirkcaldy high street. I've come here in an attempt to understand the "SNP Surge", that quasi-religious phenomenon that is sweeping Scotland, reshaping the election and set to recast the United Kingdom.

But driving into this small coastal town, the only surge in evidence is from the slate grey waves barrelling in from the Firth of Forth. If North Queensferry is picturesque, Kirkcaldy - with its imposing sea wall and towering council blocks - has the feel of a Soviet-era holiday resort.

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the constituency Gordon Brown served for 32 years until he stepped down at the dissolution, was described to me as "diverse". And it is. But standing in the centre of Kirkcaldy, you feel none of this power or beauty.

Ramsden's pawnbrokers seems to be doing a brisk trade. The two shops next door are boarded up. Last month, Tesco closed, with the loss of 180 jobs.

"Brown said he'd save it," Mr Mullin explains to me, "but he didn't." One of the things you quickly realise is that Mr Mullin - in his own mind at least - isn't running against Kenny Selbie. He's running against the Godfather of Scottish Labour. Which is ironic, given the education consultant and University of Stirling honorary professor (he lectures in Applied Decision Theory, The Political Environment, and Organisation Change) actually reminds me of Gordon Brown quite a lot.

He speaks with a control and precision that seem to mask an inner intensity. He's keen to construct a moral framework around his politics. When I ask him for his take on the dramatic upswing in his party's fortunes, he trots out all the usual stuff about Labour arrogance and post referendum betrayal. But then he pauses.

"Something is happening here at a deeper level. People are asking for something more. For their communities. For their culture. What we're seeing here is the birth of a different sort of movement. Something more akin to the sort of political movements you see on the continent."

A couple of hours later we're out and about in one of those communities.

Two days on, I'm in Lochgelly, outside the Merkat shopping centre, just along from the SNP offices, having been informed of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon's impending arrival.

The event starts to exert its own gravity. The TV cameras and photographers have arrived, and a crowd is starting to gather to observe the crowd. And then, as if someone has shouted "action", the clouds part, the sunlight streams down, and there she is. A tiny figure in a dark jacket, bright red dress and matching red shoes. Red. Even her heels are taunting the Labour Party. She strides confidently up to the first person she sees, a woman who is excitedly extending her hand. The press pack surrounds them, and in that instant the moment of truth arrives.

Does she have "the thing"? To be a truly great politician, you have to have it. That ability - and it is a natural ability, it cannot be taught or coached - to transmit to the person in front of you the feeling that for that brief moment of interaction they are the only person on your planet. Blair had the thing. Clinton patented the thing. Nicola Surgeon has the thing. The eyes lock. The body leans in. The free hand reaches over in the classic "double clasp".

So off she goes, doing the thing. Her thing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Gordon Brown's house lies at the top of a winding road in the picturesque village of North Queensferry. It's easy to spot, with its bright, shiny red door, and little cluster of security cameras around the gate.

For the last two decades Mr Brown has been able to look out watchfully, from its upper windows, across to his constituency. The securest constituency in the strongest Labour region in all of the United Kingdom. But if the opinion polls are right, some time after 10pm this Thursday, that final Scottish redoubt will fall. Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, current Labour majority 23,009, will be seized by the Scottish National Party.

Sitting in his campaign office - surrounded by leaflets, stuffed envelopes and the rest of his campaign paraphernalia - the SNP's candidate, Roger Mullin, isn't exactly hurling himself at the parapets. "Difficult to say. We've been helped by the Ashcroft poll," is his low-key response to my question about whether or not he's about to shatter the mould of British politics.

The poll he refers to was published on March 4. It showed Mr Mullin six points ahead of his Labour opponent, Kenny Selbie. Had a flying saucer descended and obliterated Edinburgh Castle with its death-ray, it could not have sent such a shockwave through the Scottish political establishment.

Mr Mullin's office is located in the centre of Kirkcaldy high street. I've come here in an attempt to understand the "SNP Surge", that quasi-religious phenomenon that is sweeping Scotland, reshaping the election and set to recast the United Kingdom.

But driving into this small coastal town, the only surge in evidence is from the slate grey waves barrelling in from the Firth of Forth. If North Queensferry is picturesque, Kirkcaldy - with its imposing sea wall and towering council blocks - has the feel of a Soviet-era holiday resort.

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the constituency Gordon Brown served for 32 years until he stepped down at the dissolution, was described to me as "diverse". And it is. But standing in the centre of Kirkcaldy, you feel none of this power or beauty.

Ramsden's pawnbrokers seems to be doing a brisk trade. The two shops next door are boarded up. Last month, Tesco closed, with the loss of 180 jobs.

"Brown said he'd save it," Mr Mullin explains to me, "but he didn't." One of the things you quickly realise is that Mr Mullin - in his own mind at least - isn't running against Kenny Selbie. He's running against the Godfather of Scottish Labour. Which is ironic, given the education consultant and University of Stirling honorary professor (he lectures in Applied Decision Theory, The Political Environment, and Organisation Change) actually reminds me of Gordon Brown quite a lot.

He speaks with a control and precision that seem to mask an inner intensity. He's keen to construct a moral framework around his politics. When I ask him for his take on the dramatic upswing in his party's fortunes, he trots out all the usual stuff about Labour arrogance and post-referendum betrayal. But then he pauses.

"Something is happening here at a deeper level. People are asking for something more. For their communities. For their culture. What we're seeing here is the birth of a different sort of movement. Something more akin to the sort of political movements you see on the continent."

A couple of hours later we're out and about in one of those communities.

Two days on, I'm in Lochgelly, outside the Merkat shopping centre, just along from the SNP offices, having been informed of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon's impending arrival.

The event starts to exert its own gravity. The TV cameras and photographers have arrived, and a crowd is starting to gather to observe the crowd. And then, as if someone has shouted "Action", the clouds part, the sunlight streams down, and there she is. A tiny figure in a dark jacket, bright red dress and matching red shoes. Red. Even her heels are taunting the Labour Party. She strides confidently up to the first person she sees, a woman who is excitedly extending her hand. The press pack surrounds them, and in that instant the moment of truth arrives.

Does she have "the thing"? To be a truly great politician, you have to have it. That ability - and it is a natural ability, it cannot be taught or coached - to transmit to the person in front of you the feeling that for that brief moment of interaction they are the only person on your planet. Blair had the thing. Clinton patented the thing. Nicola Surgeon has the thing. The eyes lock. The body leans in. The free hand reaches over in the classic "double clasp".

So off she goes, doing the thing. Her thing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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