Saturday, 17 April 2010

Look @: Glasgow

Glasgow was historically one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution. It is the largest city in Scotland and the third most populated in the United Kingdom. The entire urban conurbation in and around Glasgow contains 41% of Scotland's population; more multicultural and industrial than Edinburgh Glasgow has massive inequalities. A 2008 World Health Organisation report showed that male life expectancy varied from 54 in Calton, to 82 in nearby East Dunbartonshire. Glasgow has a large Scottish Catholic population, partially influenced by the cities large Catholic population. At one point only New York City had a larger Irish population than Glasgow (including cities in Ireland). Glasgow is a prime Labour heartland and all of its seven Labour seats are nominally held by Labour, though thanks to a by-election Glasgow East is held by SNP MP John Mason. At the 2007 local election Labour secured 45 seats on 43.3% of the vote, giving it only its second absolute majority in Scotland (the first is in Edinburgh). The SNP gained 22 seats on 24.6%, the Lib Dems received 7.9% of the vote and 5 seats, the Scottish Green Party also got 5 seats on 6.5%, the Conservatives got 1 seat on 7.7% and Solidarity, a far-left outfit containing large numbers of Trotskyists, de facto led by disgraced former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, and formed in the wake of his spectacular falling out with that party. Since the election the Solidarity member and a SNP member have both defected to Labour, and Labour gained a seat from the SNP after SNP councillor Bill Kidd stood down to concentrate on his position as a MSP.

Glasgow is unique among Scottish councils for forming a region in the Scottish Parliament. Of the 10 constituency seats 9 are held by Labour and 1 is held by SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon. In the proportional 'top-up' list seats the Labour Party received 38.2% of the vote and 0 seats (seats are awarded based on how many constituency seats have been won, to 'top-up' underrepresented parties) the SNP gained 27% of the vote and 4 MSPs, the Lib Dems received 1 MSP for 7.2%, the Conservatives got 6.7% of the vote and 1 seat and the Scottish Green Party got 5.2% and got 1 of their 2 seats in all of Scotland.

Likely to affect all the Glaswegian seats is the news that Labour's former leader on the council, Steven Purcell's investigation by Glaswegian police into drugs related activities.




Swing Needed



Glasgow Central

Mohammad Sarwar




LAB Hold

Glasgow East

John Mason*




LAB Hold

Glasgow North

Ann McKechin




LAB Hold

Glasgow North East

Willie Bain*




LAB Hold

Glasgow North West

John Robertson




LAB Hold

Glasgow South

Tom Harris




LAB Hold

Glasgow South West

Ian Davidson




LAB Hold

*Both John Mason and Willie Bain have been elected to Westminster in by-elections. The results here are for the 2005 election results. John Mason was elected to Glasgow East after Labour MP David Marshall resigned due to 'ill health'. Willie Bain was elected to Glasgow North East in the wake of former Commons speaker Michael Martin's resignation in the wake of his role in the expenses scandal. It is worth noting that speakers give up their party affiliation when elected though Martin was a former Labour member. It is also worth noting that by tradition political parties do not run against a sitting speaker so the SNP was the only one of the four main parties to stand a candidate in Glasgow North East in 2005.

Glasgow Central is the constituency of Mohammad Sarwar, the UK's first Muslim MP, elected in 1997. Sarwar was also the first MP to swear the oath of allegiance on the Qu'ran. Sarwar received death threats after negotiating a one-off extradition with Pakistan for the murderers of Kriss Donald, a white schoolboy murdered by Pakistanis whose motive was found to be racially motivated. His son was also convicted of a £850,000 money laundering scam in 2007, and Sarwar was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1999, after he went on trial for fraud but was acquitted and restored to the PLP. His son, 27 year old Anas Sarwar is standing as the Labour candidate. Sarwar Junior won the Scottish Sun's 'Best New Scottish Politician Award' in February 2009. A NHS dentist, Sarwar Junior has previously stood for a Glasgow list seat in the 2007 election even though he 'knew' he wouldn't win. He benefits from a flattering profile from the Guardian. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Chris Young whose website describes himself as "unashamedly a bit of a character". Young is apparently a performer, and claims to have performed in Glasgow doing singing, poetry, acting, storytelling and even as a ventriloquist. He has also appeared on University Challenge, Countdown, A Question of Genius, Are you an Egghead, and the Weakest Link. His website is well presented, and features a blog. More high profile than Young though is SNP candidate Osama Saeed, a prominent Scottish media figure. Described as "Scotland's most influential Muslim" by the Sunday Times his blog 'rolled-up trousers' was named as a the top Scottish blog by Grant Thoms who ran the Tartan Hero blog (which now appears deceased). Saeed was listed as one of Scotland's top 100 thinkers and opinion formers by the Scotsman newspaper and one of the country's 'brightest and best' by the Herald. However he has been controversial at times arguing for Islamic schools and suggesting that the Muslim Caliphate could be restored on the basis of democracy and human rights. However Saeed would have to get a swing of 16.7% to prevent the Sarwars setting up their own little political dynasty here and I suspect his candidacy is primarily a publicity stunt. Labour hold.

Glasgow East MP John Mason (SNP) defeated Labour candidate Margaret Curran at the 2008 Glasgow East by-election by 365 votes, just 1.4% of the votes. Mason's gigantic 22.5% swing ("off the richter scale" to quote Mason) came during the worst period of Labour's mid-term woes and Margaret Curran is back to fight for the seat once again. What's more, while David Marshall officially resigned due to "ill health" though shortly thereafter it was revealed that his expenses include paying family members as staff. By-elections are also not privy to the same 'rules' as a general election contest. For one thing turnout is usually lower (here 42.3% against 48.2% in 2005) and opponents of the government are more likely to turnout. For another a by-election exists in its own separate bubble. There was no fear, in 2008, of Labour losing their governing majority through this one result. Mason will be more difficult to beat now however as he will have a higher profile in the constituency and he has no doubt been working hard to impress his new constituents. This is reflected in the fact that while Mason notionally needs the second largest swing of a second-placed candidate in Glasgow, Labour, while still the favourites, have their worst odds in Glasgow here. Margaret Curran is a MSP and a former Scottish Minister at both Communities and Social Justice. Her Glasgow Baillieston constituency is roughly similar to this one. Also notable in the seat is Frances Curran a joint national spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party, and formerly one of the SSP's six MSPs. The SSP will fight a high profile campaign here and their mixture of populist far-left campaigning and support for an independent Scotland may work as a spoiler on either Labour or the SNP though she will probably lose her deposit. An experienced politician, my feeling is that Margaret Curran will retake this seat from Mason, though she will certainly have much more of a fight on her hands than if the by-election had never taken place. Labour hold.

Glasgow North is held by Ann McKechin who has the smallest majority in Glasgow from 2005. McKechin is currently a junior minister at the Scottish Office. A Labour loyalist whose expenses appear to be in order, McKechin is a pretty typical Labour MP. This is Lib Dem target seat number 38 and the Liberal Democrat candidate is Katy Gordon, who accuses McKechin of "saying one thing locally and voting another way nationally" and of "being invisible". Such populist localist tactics often work well for the Lib Dems. The constituency is mostly covered by Glasgow Maryhill and Glasgow Kelvin at the Scottish Parliament. Maryhill is held by Labour, with a 13.9% majority over the SNP. The Lib Dems came a distant third. Kelvin is also a Labour/SNP marginal, and on 12.1% the Lib Dems embarrassingly came fourth to the Scottish Greens. There are two wards that are entirely within the constituency. They elected 3 Labour, 2 Lib Dem, 2 SNP and 1 SGP councillor in 2007. The Lib Dems are targeting the seat, and the high student population from Glasgow University will help them, but the Lib Dem surge is not as in evidence in Scotland as in England, but I think the seat will just stay in Labour hands. Labour hold.

Glasgow North East was the constituency of former House of Commons speaker Michael Martin. In the wake of the expenses scandal pressure grew on Martin to resign from his position as speaker after he was the first speaker to be effectively forced out in 300 years. Martin resigned from the House of Commons the very next day forcing a by-election. The 2005 election result is odd. As Speaker's resign their party affliation on election to the role (Martin was formerly a Labour MP) Martin stood as a 'Speaker seeking re-election'. By tradition the three main parties do not put up candidates against sitting speakers, however the SNP did netting 17.7% of the vote. Also notable is the result for the Socialist Labour Party, at 14.2% its highest result, not just in this election but in any election. This is likely the result of voter confusion due to the lack of a 'Labour' candidate. The ensuing by-election caused much national interest. Neither Glasgow North East nor its predecessor Glasgow Springburn had had a 'normal' election since 1997 (though on that occasion Martin won Springburn with 71.4% of the vote) and the strength of the parties in the constituency was difficult to measure. In a time of trouble for Labour the 2009 by-election there was speculation that it could have produced another shock SNP win like that of Glasgow East. In the end however Labour candidate, 36 year old Willie Bain, won 59.4% of the vote compared to just 20% for SNP candidate David Kerr, albeit on the lowest turnout in Scottish history (33.2%). Some of this may have been motivated by the perception in some quarters that Martin was a scapegoat for the expenses scandal and that his forcing out was at least partially motivated by Conservative snobbery at a working class Glaswegian speaker. Nonetheless I suspect the chances of SNP candidate Billy McAllister, a local councillor, winning this one are close to nil if the Labour Party can win this one by such a margin in a low turnout by-election. Labour hold.

Glasgow North West is the constituency of John Robertson, who formerly held the constituency of Donald Dewar, a veritable modern Scottish hero of the Labour Party who masterminded devolution and served as the first First Minister of Scotland until his tragic death in 2000 at the age of 63. Robertson has rebelled against the government three times; firstly on Iraq, secondly the declassification of Cannabis to class C, and thirdly on an increase in the number of MSPs. Robertson was asked by Sir Thomas Legg to pay back £2,975 in expenses, which he did. There appears to have been little media coverage of his expenses as compared to other MPs and Lib Dem MP Ann Laird, a local councillor, is extremely unlikely to defeat him. Labour hold.

Glasgow South is held by Labour MP Tom Harris (No connection whatsoever to our very own Tom Harris I assure you!) Harris is best well known for his blog "And Another Thing..." which has won a multitude of awards and endorsements, including Total Politics Magazine's top Scottish, Labour, MP and left-of-centre blogs. He also has a popular Twitter feed, which he sometimes even updates from the chamber. Harris attempted to claim for a cot and a bottle steriliser but was rejected by the fees office though I doubt that this revelation will particularly hurt him. His sarcastic combative style will probably only aid his popularity in Glasgow (his current twitter profile picture is taken from a full page advertisement taken out by the Power 2010 lobby group, which campaigns for constitutional reform. The advertisement took the form of a 'wanted' poster of MPs who had opposed their aims, particularly constitutional reform.) Lib Dem candidate Shabnum Mustapha will have to do something truly special to unseat Harris. SNP candidate Malcolm Fleming is an experienced candidate, losing Galloway and Upper Nithsdale by just 74 votes in 2001, but is also unlikely to have much of an impact. Labour hold.

Glasgow South West is the final of our seven Glaswegian constituencies. It is held by Labour MP Ian Davidson. Davidson is a bit of a rebel and is sometimes seen as a 'class warrior', but is unlikely to get many plaudits for his expenses. Between 2003 and 2007 he claimed £87,699, only £30 less than the maximum and later admitted he wished he had a larger mortgage so he could claim more. He also paid a friend £5,500 to renovate his flat and then took him shooting. A notable contender in the constituency is Tommy Sheridan of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, one of Scotland's most interesting political characters. Sheridan first came to fame as part of the Militant Tendency group of Trotskyists that entered the Labour Party in the 1960s and tried to steer it to the left until its ejection by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s. From this position he was a prominent face of the anti-poll tax campaign in Scotland. Later he would be the de facto leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, a far-left organisation, on whose ticket he won a proportional seat at the 1999 Scottish Parliament election. In 2003 the SSP won 6 MSPs. In 2004 the News of the World ran a series of articles accusing Sheridan of frequenting swingers clubs and doing cocaine. Sheridan started a libel bid against the News of the World, which he won but many prominent and powerful members of the SSP, including eleven members of the SSP's executive committee, gave evidence against Sheridan. Sheridan started a new far-left outfit 'Solidarity' which came within a few hundred votes of winning a proportional seat in 2007. The SSP was decimated. Sheridan and his wife Gail were then put on trial for perjury relating to the libel trial. Desperate for money relating to his legal problems Sheridan has since had a radio talk show, a show at the Edinburgh Fringe and appeared on Celebrity Big Brother. Solidarity is running with other far-left groups in the TUSC and is de facto the coalition's Scottish wing. However with Sheridan's trials and tribulations his popularity, once high in the working class neighbourhoods of Glasgow, has suffered. He ran in the Glasgow East by-election and only got 3.9% of the vote, losing his deposit. He runs that risk yet again this time. The greatest threat to Davidson is SNP candidate Chris Stephens, who previously stood in the Glasgow Pollok Scottish Parliament constituency. Even with expenses the possible Sheridan spoiler Stephens is highly unlikely to win. Labour hold.

1 comment:

  1. Just a FYI. This was written prior to the recent polls that show a Lib Dem 'surge'