Scotland’s nationalists lost a special election yesterday, as politicians scrambled to save a nearby petrochemicals plant from closure with less than 11 months to go before a referendum on independence.
The Labour Party won 42.5 percent of the vote, beating the Scottish National Party’s 30.6 percent, in the Scottish Parliament seat in Dunfermline, the birthplace of U.S. philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It had been vacated after the former lawmaker was jailed for domestic abuse. The results showed a 6.9 percentage-point shift in voting to Labour from the SNP.
“You can’t overestimate its importance, because it’s a measure of how the SNP are seen,” Matt Qvortrup, a senior researcher on politics at Cranfield University in England, said in an interview before the result. “This is the kind of seat they have to win to perform in the referendum.”
Dunfermline lies across the Firth of Forth 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Grangemouth industrial site. Unions and management faced off there this week over the future of production at Scotland’s only oil refinery and 800 jobs in jeopardy at the chemicals plant. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, was involved in trying to broker a deal, with how to run the economy a key battleground in the independence debate.
Refinery owner Ineos Group Holdings SA said today the 210,000 barrel-a-day facility would restart immediately. The petrochemical plant, which Ineos said the day before the election would be closed, will also be kept open after union officials offered to agree to new terms to save jobs.
“This news is a tremendous fillip for the workforce and the whole Grangemouth community, following what could have been a potential disaster,” Salmond said in an e-mailed statement following the company’s announcement. “Clearly for many people across the communities of the Forth Valley, Wednesday was a day of despair -- today is quite different, and is a day of great satisfaction that not only has a key part of Scotland’s industrial infrastructure been saved but that people can look forward with confidence to a bright future.”
Salmond has said Scotland would be better off if it had control over all its finances and resources, including North Sea oil and gas. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour Party counter that the country should remain part of a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure its economy is protected from worldwide shocks.
The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, restarted in 1999 as the U.K. devolved power, currently has control over policy areas including transportation, health, education and justice while the government in London oversees the economy, defense and foreign policy.
Support for going it alone is about 20 percentage points behind remaining part of the U.K., according to TNS BMRB and YouGov Plc (YOU) polls over the past month.
Former SNP lawmaker Bill Walker took the Dunfermline seat by a margin of 590 votes in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election that saw the SNP sweep to power with an unprecedented majority and pave the way for the independence ballot, which will be held on Sept. 18, 2014.
Yesterday, the SNP’s Shirley-Anne Somerville lost out to Labour’s Cara Hilton in Dunfermline. The electoral district was created from two older constituencies in the town, one previously held by Labour and the other by the Liberal Democrats.
Walker was found guilty of attacking three former wives and a step-daughter between 1967 and 1995. He was sentenced in Edinburgh on Sept. 20 to 12 months in prison.
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