When Jim Sillars won the Govan by-election for the SNP in 1988 and derided the Scottish Labour MPs as the ‘Feeble Fifty’ the name quickly stuck. These Labour MPs did little or nothing to prevent Margaret Thatcher decimating Scottish industry and guinea-pigging the Scots with the hated Poll Tax in 1989. Indeed, one Scottish Labour MP, Dick Douglas, disgusted at his party’s inaction defected to the SNP in protest in 1990.
But what of the rest? Only 11 Labour MPs remain from that period; the rest either moved to the Lords or other political sphere; retired; voted out or sadly died.
These 11 are the Last of the Feeble Fifty:-
Will any of these lose their seat at the next Westminster election?
Lets look at the runners and riders…
Gavin Strang. MP for Edinburgh East. He was reportedly considering retiring but has since changed his mind, no doubt persuaded by the challenge of the SNP. Kenny McAskill holds the analogous seat for the SNP in the Scottish Parliament. If he stays on Labour hope that his long standing voters will turn out for him no matter the party fortunes. Gavin won the seat in 2005 over the Liberal Democrats easily pushing the SNP to third place. This time it will be much closer, but I expect Gavin’s personal vote rather than party vote will pull him through. Just.
David Marshall. MP for Glasgow East. One of the safest seats Labour has. The analogous Scottish Parliament seat is held by Paul Martin, Labour MSP, son of Michael Martin. Both with comfortable majorities. Would need a SNP landslide to even come close to losing. Expect the gap to tighten but fully expect a Labour win.
STOP PRESS: Now David Marshall has resigned on health grounds – stress and depression caused by investigations over expenses and nepotism – the Glasgow East seat is currently up for grabs. Due to the Labour Party’s current deep unpopularity the SNP may have a chance to cause an shock upset! If this ultra-safe seat falls to the SNP all of my punditry on this page will need revising!
STOP PRESS: SNP have won in Glasgow East! You will need to read this post now with the understanding that the SNP can now take all these seats. On the Labour to SNP swing of Glasgow East only Tom Clarke’s seat would be safe in the whole of Scotland.
Michael Martin. MP for Glasgow North East. Now the Speaker of the Commons. By convention the Speakers seat is usually unopposed by major parties. However Martin is a controversial figure, particularly after he has been implicated in expenses wrongdoing. Though the other parties will probably field a candidate Martin will probably win through.
Tom Clarke. MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. Again a safe seat. The MSP seat is also held by Labour. Another tighten then but not enough.
Gordon Brown. MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The British Prime Minister. Would be extraordinary if he lost his seat. Has a safe majority and the analogous MSP seat is also Labour. Even with his UK popularity in freefall at the moment should still hold on locally.
John Reid. MP for Airdrie and Shotts. In 2007 he announced he would not stand forward for re-election. He is currently the Chairman of Celtic Football Club. So another of the Feeble Fifty bites the dust. The analogous Scottish Parliament seat was last time a surprisingly tight affair between Labour and SNP in what had previously been a safe seat. With a new Westminster candidate to put forward, Labour could be in trouble here. If the SNP win they should smash through their twenty seat target.
Alistair Darling. MP for Edinburgh South West. The Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is a very tight seat. The analogous Edinburgh Pentlands is held by the Conservative David McLetchie MSP. Labour and the SNP were tight for 2nd place. In the 2005 Westminster election, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were tight for 2nd place. This fracturing of the vote may just save the Chancellor. If he’s extremely lucky. If I had to pick a winner now its between the Conservatives and SNP, with the SNP just edging it.
Jimmy Hood. MP for Lanark and Hamilton East. Another safe seat at Westminster, but the Clydesdale seat at Holyrood considerably tightened. Karen Gillon just managed to hold off Aileen Campbell of the SNP, though Aileen was then elected as a list MSP to become the youngest MSP in the parliament then aged 26. Labour shouldn’t lose this seat at Westminster, but the way the polls are going they just might.
Tom McAvoy. MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. Again a safe seat at Westminster. The Holyrood seat of Glasgow Rutherglen needs a 9 % swing to go the SNP which going on current polling is achieveable. Much much tighter then but should survive only just.
John McFall. MP for West Dunbartonshire. Again safe, but the Holyrood seat was just won by Jackie Baillie from the SNP. Jackie has not had her troubles to seek in the Scottish parliament given the uneviable task of trying to back her leader Wendy Alexander after the Labour campaign team admitted breaking the law and throughout several policy U-turns. Her reputation has taken a bit of a battering after trying to defend the indefensible. How much will this and Labour’s freefall in the polls affect the result here? This seat is all to play for.
Frank Doran. MP for Aberdeen North. Frank was originally MP for Aberdeen South in 1987, before getting voted out in 1992. He returned in 1997 and won Aberdeen North in 2005 with a decent majority. He is mainly remembered in the Commons for saying that MPs should queue jump in the canteen. Staff have complained they have been treated as second class citizens. The Holyrood seat was handsomely held by the SNP’s Brian Adam. The Westminster seat should go the same way. I imagine the Commons staff will be pleased to see him go.
So what then of the Last of the Feeble Fifty? John Reid is definitely going. Unless Michael Martin retires he should stay. Most of the others should be safe, but there’s at least two or three Feebles that will be sweating come election night.