Page last updated at 04:05 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Labour's tale of the unexpected

By David Thompson
Political correspondent, BBC News

Lindsay Roy
Lindsay Roy confounded the pundits by winning the Glenrothes by-election

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A few weeks ago, an SNP victory at Glenrothes wasn't just a possibility, it was a racing certainty. You didn't need to take my word for it - you could have asked the bookies.

If you didn't trust them, you could have even asked a fair few Scottish Labour MPs who were telling anyone who would listen that defeat was a foregone conclusion.

Now, Lindsay Roy is the new Labour MP for Glenrothes, the pundits are scratching their heads and, all of a sudden, the political landscape looks a bit different.

Remember, this by-election was supposed to be the final straw, nail in the coffin or hammer blow which would signal the end of Gordon Brown's career as leader of his country and party.

The men in red ties would turn up at Number 10, some wearing smiles, others wielding daggers and tell the prime minister that if he couldn't hold a seat like Glenrothes, his time was well and truly up.

Home patch

So what's changed? Well, at local level, Labour got its vote out. Despite the horrible weather, there was an extremely good turnout - just over 52% - and it looks like that worked for Lindsay Roy.

True, a lot of people in Glenrothes are disappointed in the government. On the doorstep, canvassers heard a lot of grievances.

But there was also a lot of complaints about the SNP-led local council. The Nationalists were the opposition at Westminster level, but are the government at local and Holyrood level. That may have counted against them.

Labour had a likeable and well-respected local man as a candidate. Both Gordon and Sarah Brown came up and worked the seat hard.

But there are two other factors - one local, one global.

Gordon Brown is a Fifer through and through. Unlike in Glasgow East, there is a residual loyalty to the man on his home patch which may have counted for something.

There's also a word which the people who live here like to use about themselves - "thrawn". It means stubborn, contrary, an unwillingness to do what's expected.

For months, the "experts" have been telling the people of Glenrothes they were going to inflict a crushing blow on Labour. For some, that might have been enough for them to do the exact opposite.

'Brown Bounce'

The other factor is the economy. Glenrothes may be the first concrete proof that the idea of Gordon Brown as the man to steer Britain through these difficult times is beginning to stick.

For the Tories and the SNP, the messages from this by-election go beyond the confines of Fife.

David Cameron may now worry that the "Brown Bounce" is more than a passing phenomenon. Glenrothes consolidates the improved poll ratings Labour have been enjoying of late.

For the SNP, it suggests the honeymoon is over. They had a record to defend in Fife as leaders of the local authority and it would appear the people have delivered a verdict on their tenure in office.

The other concern for Alex Salmond is that people in Scotland may be buying the Labour line about independence - stay as part of the UK and see your banks getting bailed out - or leave and become Iceland.

There were some things the experts did get right about this by-election. It was exciting. It was momentous. And it may just have changed the political landscape.

Just not in the way we thought.

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