After the Statement of Persons Nominated was released for the Inverclyde by-election for those watching from a far news on the contest has been scarce. The general assumption on our part was that the SNP were struggling to make any ground on Labour and the by-election was a foregone conclusion. However, a couple of debates scheduled late in the campaign appear to have changed things a little.
Exactly a week before polls closed STV's Politics Now programme aired a debate with four of the five candidates (UKIP were excluded). The event was sure to be a banana skin for Labour candidate Iain McKenzie who, all things being equal, should have been cruising to victory. Unfortunately for Labour he didn't exactly cover himself in glory as and, as others have pointed out, gifted the young Liberal Democrat candidate Sophie Bridger an amusing put down when he consistently talked over her (see from around 17 minutes).
The SNP are in the best position to take advantage of any slip ups from Labour in this by-election but their candidate Anne McLaughlin feels she has scored a major victory in this campaign. The issue revolves around a leaked document that the SNP claim defines the criteria for Inverclyde Council to make compulsory redundancies. The SNP candidate pushed McKenzie, the leader of Inverclyde Council, on the issue during the first debate but he avoided explicitly ruling out compulsory redundancies.
It was in a second debate on the Politics Show (44 mins) that McLoughlin brought up the issue again and the Labour candidate stated that there will be no compulsory redundancies and there were no plans for any in the first place. Both sides have been spinning this locally and with job creation such a big issue in this by-election this is sure to have played a role in the final week.
What is striking from the debates is how much the other candidates managed to wind up McKenzie. He was cautioned by the chairs for interrupting and certainly didn't give off the aura of a candidate confident of victory on Thursday. Annoyingly this is first by-election of the Parliament that has not been polled so knowing exactly where everyone stands in this contest is difficult. Besides, any fieldwork for a poll would have been conducted at the end of last week so the fallout from the two debates would not have been captured.
Given the lack of media attention on this by-election before last Thursday it's safe to assume Labour were heading for an easy victory and although the SNP are fighting hard in the final few days I don't think it will be enough. McKenzie should hold this for his party, but I expect his majority to be a lot smaller than the 14,416 David Cairns racked up last May.
Iain McKenzie (Lab)
Anne McLaughlin (SNP)
Sophie Bridger (LD)
David Wilson (Con)
Mitch Sorbie (UKIP)