Scots Nationalists Fail in Election Before Independence Vote

Scotland’s nationalists failed to gain a Parliament seat from their pro-U.K. opponents in a special election less than eight months before the country votes on whether to create Europe’s newest independent state.

The opposition Labour Party held the Cowdenbeath seat in the Scottish Parliament with 55.8 percent of the vote compared with 28.4 percent for the Scottish National Party, which runs the semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh, according to official results announced early today. Yesterday’s vote followed the death of Labour lawmaker Helen Eadie in November.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the SNP, is trying to persuade voters to back independence on Sept. 18 and defy opinion polls that show more people want to remain in the 307-year-old U.K. At the last Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2011, surveys showed the SNP trailing Labour less than three months before Salmond won the unprecedented majority that allowed him to call the referendum.

The outcome in Cowdenbeath is “not going to have an immediate impact on the referendum result but it has a psychological impact on the parties,” Matt Qvortrup, a senior researcher on politics at Cranfield University in England, said in a telephone interview. “The onus is on the SNP. They are the ones that have to win” the referendum.

Backing for independence was 27 percent versus 41 percent against, according to a monthly TNS BMRB poll published on Dec. 19. The group of voters who remain undecided was 33 percent after rounding the numbers, meaning there is still “all to play for,” according to the pollster.

Child-Friendly Policies

Cowdenbeath is in a former mining area in the region of Fife across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. The debate focused on creating and protecting jobs as well as improving education. The SNP’s Natalie McGarry championed the party’s new policy of introducing free meals for children in the first three years of primary school and extended aid for child care.

Labour candidate Alex Rowley, a local councilor, campaigned with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who represents part of the area in the U.K. Parliament in Westminster, and Labour’s Westminster finance spokesman, Ed Balls.

Eadie won the seat for Labour in 2011 with 46.5 percent of the vote against the SNP’s 41.6 percent.

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, set up in 1999 as the U.K. devolved power, currently has control over transportation, health, education and justice. The government in London oversees the economy, defense and foreign policy.

North Sea

Salmond and the SNP say 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 Conservatives, their Liberal Democrat coalition partners and Labour counter that the country should remain part of the union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure its economy is protected from worldwide shocks and it can afford social security and pensions.

The Scottish government published a policy document in November outlining its vision for an independent state that would keep the pound, the Bank of England and the monarchy, while ditching Britain’s nuclear weapons.

Cameron’s government has been releasing a series of papers on topics ranging from finance and debt to defense, scientific research and pensions, putting forward the argument for Scotland to stay in the U.K. Last week, it said it might take years for Scotland to rejoin the European Union.

The result in Cowdenbeath comes three months after the SNP lost to Labour in a special election in the neighboring area Dunfermline. That seat had been vacated after the former SNP lawmaker was jailed for domestic abuse. Labour won 42.5 percent of the ballots, while the SNP finished with 30.6 percent.

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