SNP a major threat in Labour Glasgow stronghold
Labour MP for Glasgow South is even asking Tories to support him
SNP party leader Nicola Sturgeon with three-year-old Kitty MacDonald and SNP candidate for the Glasgow South constituency Stewart McDonald during a visit to Glazed, a ceramic painting studio in Glasgow. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Kenneth Morgan’s biography of the late Labour leader, Michael Foot, sits on a shelf in the Langside public library in Glasgow, on sale for just £1.
It is not just the library that is a clearing house. Langside is part of Glasgow South, a solidly Labour constituency, which elected Tom Harris in 2005 and 2010.
Today, however, Harris faces the challenge from Scottish National Party candidate Stewart McDonald, who has worked as a staffer for the local SNP Holyrood member for the last few years.
Harris, in his own words, is struggling, even sending out a letter last week to past Conservative voters where he appealed for support “even if you have never voted Labour before”.
“Lend me your support so that we can defeat nationalism and secure Scotland’s rightful place in the UK,” he wrote. “Unless I can gather support from across the political spectrum the SNP will win here.”
Polling by Lord Michael Ashcroft puts McDonald on 48 percentage points, far ahead of Harris on 33 points, with everybody else running only to make up the numbers.
Sitting in the SNP’s new offices near Mount Florida train station, McDonald says he is finally feeling the exhaustion after months of campaigning to win the House of Commons seat.
“It is taking its toll on me, walking up all these tenements in shoes and a suit, but it is going well,” he says, displaying the broad smile of a man who feels he is on the verge of victory.
The offices are just months old. “We have a five-year lease to carry us through this election, next year’s Holyrood elections and afterwards,” he tells The Irish Times.
McDonald used to work as a tour guide and holiday rep in Spain, even selling property for a time. “It was great fun, but I would never do it gain. The best customers were always the Irish.”
He joined the SNP in 2006 “before it was fashionable. I was made branch organiser at my first meeting. I didn’t have a clue. There were eight of us then. We have come a long way.”
If McDonald’s journey in the SNP started before success, Springburn councillor Phil Greene’s travels began before dawn, given that he joined 47 years ago.
Decades of disappointment followed. “We ran good campaign after campaign and then had to go to the count and had Labour lording it over us when they had had to do nothing,” he said, the bitterness still raw.
“Now, it is so much better, it feels fantastic. Before we couldn’t fill a phonebox. Now, we can fill stadiums”.
The Harris letter has irked as many as it persuaded, it seems, emphasising Labour’s links last year with the Conservatives in the Better Together platform to save the United Kingdom.
“People are canny enough to accept that [they] agreed on the referendum and that was fine. But it was the ease with which they worked together and seemed to enjoy it that stuck in a lot of Labour voters’ throats,” says McDonald.
Today, there is little evidence in Glasgow South on a quiet Friday afternoon that Labour is actively campaigning to save Harris. Indeed, rumours abound that staff have been sent to East Renfrewshire to rescue Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.
Opinion polls suggest that Scottish Labour will be completely wiped out, losing all of its 41 seats. However, the very fact that this is being predicted so early means that some seats should be rescued.
However, the position is infinitely worse than Labour imagined just a few months when Murphy was elected to stem the tide of the nationalists’ advance, even if no one thought he could reverse it.
However, Labour’s decline has been a long time coming. For decades, Labour MPs have, with a few exceptions, failed to nurse their constituencies, losing touch over time as they drifted more and more into London’s orbit.
During last year’s independence referendum campaign a retired Liverpool party volunteer in her 70s was sent to one Glasgow constituency during the final weeks to bring some order to operations.
Once there, she was shocked. Canvass records were practically non-existent; the local party had no idea of what to do or of who it needed to reach out to most of all in the final days.
Following the referendum, the SNP’s membership surged. Glasgow South, for example, had about 400 members in local branches last year. Today, it has 2,000. Throughout Scotland, the SNP now has over 100,000 members.
Labour realised its decades-old Commons dominance was in danger, but even into the winter it was not able to comprehend the tsunami that was building up in constituencies it dominated for nearly 50 years.
By spring, the scale of the threat had become clear. One MP last month described himself as “Defcon f***ked”, while another in the central belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh just asked: “What do I do?”.
However, the Scots have become adept at voting tactically, happy up to now to choose Labour for Westminster as they increasingly opted to back the SNP for Holyrood.
Harris will have to hope that there are many like Emma Stewart, a student at Glasgow Clyde college on Battlefield Road: “I’m voting Labour. I don’t really like the SNP.”
Stewart voted Yes to independence, but even she seems slightly bemused that so many of those who voted No in the locality have now changed their minds, both on independence and on supporting the SNP.