There are lies, damn lies… and then there are opinion polls.

I want to make clear, I have no real agenda here.  Weighted, unweighted, likely to vote… I’m really not sure how much they tell us.  As one of our commenters noted, on the doorsteps the response most heard to the question “with which party do you most closely identify” is none.

But by all means, knock yourselves out with speculation – as indeed, you have been doing – whenever a new one comes our way.  I want to add to it based on nothing more than an idea that came to mind.

I’ve been saying for a few months now that I think the likely outcome is a narrow Labour “victory” – that’s to say, more seats than any other party in Parliament, but not enough for a majority (of course) and with the maths making coalition with anyone unlikely if not impossible, running a minority government.

But here’s a spanner for you.  What if that came to pass, and Labour did become the largest party… but Iain Gray failed to be re-elected in East Lothian?

Let me back track a little.

  • Iain Gray was Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (and quite how those three briefs fitted together nicely is anyone’s guess) at the dissolution of the first Scottish Parliamentary session in 2003 – a fairly high-profile role.
  • He then lost out in his bid to be re-elected in Edinburgh Pentlands to then-Conservative leader David McLetchie, with the latter turning a 2,885 Labour majority into a 2,111 majority for the Tories.
  • Given Labour’s rules regarding standing in either the constituency or on the list, but not both, he was thus denied the “safety-net” of list ranking.
  • He then spent 4 years out of Holyrood before returning as constituency MSP for East Lothian after incumbent Labour MSP John Home Robertson decided to step down.
  • He’ll be defending a majority of 2,448 over the SNP (which, if you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed is SMALLER than the majority he held when he lost Edinburgh Pentlands in 2003).

Having said all that – David McLetchie did have a much higher profile than Gray’s nearest challenger in East Lothian, the SNP’s David Berry.  There is a certain other candidate in the constituency who has a high profile – possibly a higher profile than Gray himself – and that is the Conservatives’ Finance Spokesman, Derek Brownlee.  If the Conservatives had been the nearest challenger to Labour previously or were not 6,000 odd votes behind Labour (or, indeed, if the constituency wasn’t essentially allergic to blue!), I’d probably be giving the idea that Iain Gray might not be returned more consideration.

Nevertheless, East Lothian, for all its Labour-leaning tendencies, is not what you would term a “safe” seat, so there is a chance, albeit slim, that Iain Gray might lose the seat itself.  No, I know – I’m not convinced either – but let’s roll with it for a minute.

Now, assume I’m right about the election – and Labour do end up the largest party, but without their leader elected.  What then?

Well, the Scotland Act says we have 28 days to find a First Minister or we have to have a new election.  Labour’s leadership contests take about 3 months, so that’s out – but they managed to have a contest within the 4 weeks in the wake of Donald Dewar’s death.  So, if they wanted to govern, they’d have to act quickly.  But in the meantime, they’d (presumably) be led by Deputy Leader Johann Lamont unless she decided to stand in the leadership contest itself (or, herself wasn’t returned to Holyrood).

I guess perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself a little in considering potential leadership (and, potentially, if my maths proves accurate, First Ministerial) candidates, but presumably Andy Kerr would be favourite, with Jackie Baillie, Bill Butler and John Park (and maybe Johann Lamont herself?) potential candidates?  I have no idea.  I don’t really want to think about FM Jackie Baillie.

Anyway – this is a scenario that is unlikely to trouble us much.  Perhaps possible, but no more than that.  But it would certainly be interesting to see the dynamics of an internal election where, once again for Labour, the winner would become Scotland’s First Minister.