Tuesday, 3 February 2015

#GE15 - Spotlight on Glasgow South West

I thought I'd kick off my series of constituency profiles with a look at the one I live in. Glasgow South West, carved out of the old Pollok and Govan seats, is one which normally would have been considered a safe New Labour seat, with the centrists having a majority of 14.671 - 46,2% - on unchanged boundaries from 2010. 

Of course, these aren't normal times. Polls consistently show that New Labour is likely to lose almost all,if not all, of the 41 seats they won last time out. Glasgow South West is reckoned, on a uniform national swing, to be one of the handful they are predicted to retain. 

This, however, is predicated on a uniform national swing actually happening. Last time out, nationally, Labour won 42,0% of the vote with the National party third on a piffling 19,9%. The last YouGov poll, out yesterday, maintains the pattern of a catastrophic result for New Labour and shows National on 48% with New Labour on 27% - a swing of 43,1% from the unionists. 

Anecdotal evidence seems to show that the vast majority of the swing away from New Labour has gone directly to the National party, which has also picked up the votes of disaffected Liberals who might have otherwise been expected to gravitate towards New Labour, and almost certainly will in rUK. 

The latter party is not really a consideration in this constituency: supporting the Liberal Democrats was once considered an odd, but harmless, minority pursuit, a bit like dogging. It's now viewed in Glasgow as a socially-deviant, cause for concern pursued by a small handful of reckless people who think they know best - a political version of drink-driving. They managed 9,0% in 2010 at the height of Cleggmania and 11,6% in 2005, but I suspect the numbers for them in May will be closer to the 1,26%, or 87 votes they recorded in Govan in the 2012 local elections. And if you thought that was a freak low for them, they recorded 1,5% - 73 votes - the next year in the Govan by-election. 

In other parts of the constituency, they had even worse results: in Pollok, they received 80 votes, 1,12%. The good folk of Craigton put them bottom, with fewer than 1% of the vote. In the 2011 Holyrood election in the corresponding Pollok constituency, they finished bottom again, with only 2,1%. This latter result shows that it isn't only local elections that the people of Glasgow South West no longer vote Liberal in.

The Green Party aren't standing, meaning the Left-wing Yes vote will be represented by the Scottish Socialists, and their chair, Bill Bonnar. A socialist activist of four decades standing in Scotland, the Sudan and the UK, Bonnar is a popular and well-known local figure, working with local social housing agencies. He previously stood in Anniesland, where he defeated UKIP, and came within 240 votes of taking the Tories' scalp in Rutherglen in 2003. The SSP were first to declare their candidate, and have been working the constituency closely for some time, holding street stalls and dozens of public meetings during and after the referendum campaign. The last time the SSP stood in GSW [2005], they came 5th - the 'best of the rest' after the four main parties. In the 2001 and 1997 elections in Govan, they were also best of the rest; in Pollok in 2001 and 1997, they came third, beating the Lib Dems and Tories both times; and in the same constituency in 1992, they managed to come second, beating the Lib Dems, the National party and the Conservatives. The SSP have also come second and third in Pollok in Holyrood elections. Glasgow South West is clearly very fertile territory for the Socialists, and they will be cautiously optimistic that they may retain their deposit. 

New Labour probably ought to have told elderly incumbent MP Ian Davidson that his time was up at the end of this Parliament - and he didn't manage to get his whole constituency party to vote in favour of him standing again - given the perfect storm surrounding him: during the 2013 by-election in Govan, he courted controversy by taking candidate John Kane around each of the local Orange lodges to secure their support for him. He's also associated himself very strongly with the local soccer team, Rangers, which was founded in 2012 and which support is almost exclusively drawn from loyalists and unionists who live outside the constituency. Again, this probably wouldn't have mattered under normal circumstances, but it is another reason - another excuse - for people not to vote for the New Labour candidate.

A further element of scandal in the current parliament saw Davidson berated for bullying a female National party MP, the only one on his Scottish Affairs Committee. He threatened to give her 'a doing' and despite clarifying he did not mean to threaten Dr Whiteford with sexual violence, he refused to apologise.

Davidson has been the subject of outrage locally over what is seen as massively disproportionate and inappropriate renumeration. He claims over £120.000 per annum in salary and 'expenses' - around ten times the average individual income locally - and sparked fury when, on having to repay money he was caught claiming fraudulently, said he 'wished [he] had a bigger house so [he] could claim more on expenses'. He's an old-time politician, and probably could have got away with individual things in the old days. But these aren't the old days. There's a distrust of Westminster politicians and an almost visceral disgust aimed at career politicians who are seen to be crooked.

The independence referendum saw Pollok vote overwhelmingly Yes, with 54% of the electorate rejecting their MP's view on the matter. Ian Davidson was a loud anti-Independence voice, and it is unlikely that people who voted Yes and turned their back on Davidson will return to his embrace.

26.807 people in the corresponding Pollok constituency voted Yes. Only 19.863 turned out to vote for Ian Davidson in 2010. It will take fewer than three quarters of those who voted Yes to now vote for the 2010 second-placed Nationalist candidate Chris Stephens for him to take the seat - and this is before taking into account the likely collapse in both the New Labour vote nationally and Davidson's vote personally. 

So while a uniform national swing would see Mr Davidson returned to his lucrative spot on the backbenches to happily try to intimidate more young women out of politics, the extent of the public revulsion towards him locally is, in my view, likely to see him lose the seat. 

The National party's candidate, Chris Stephens, fought the seat in the 2010 election, attracting a fifth of the vote, but the next year in Holyrood, he came within a 312-vote swing of defeating then-future and now-former chair of the New Labour group in Holyrood, Johann Lamont. Stephens also fought the seat in 2007, coming second again.

The Conservatives will be represented in the seat by East Renfrewshire councillor Gordon McCaskill. New Labour's allies in the Miners' Strike, the referendum, austerity, Trident and the Bedroom Tax don't do well in this area: they've only finished in the top 3 in the Scottish Parliament constituency once, and didn't come second in either Westminster constituency since the 1987 election. The fact that they've had to look outside the constituency for an old man to select the seat presumably shows two things: firstly, a dearth of acceptable candidates in a city Ruth Davidson represents in Holyrood; and secondly, that perhaps they didn't want a charismatic, young candidate, who might take unionist votes from their New Labour colleagues.

The Liberal Democrats haven't announced if they're putting up a candidate yet, but frankly, it doesn't matter. In Holyrood elections, they've finished fourth and fifth twice each. In GSW they've finished third both times it's previously been contested. In Pollok's Westminster seat, they finished fifth twice before getting up to the heady heights of fourth; before that, as the Liberals they finished fourth twice before finishing third twice. In Govan's Westminster seat, they finished third, fourth and fourth; before that, as the Social and Liberal Democrats - with a young Bernard Ponsonby as candidate - fourth; previously the SDP finished twice consecutively in 1983 and 1987; in 1979 they didn't put up a candidate - sensibly, as the old Liberals finished fourth twice in 1974 and fourth in the 1973 by-election won by Margo. They'd come third in the 1950 election, the experience being, presumably, so exciting for them that they didn't bother to select a candidate for another 23 years. From 1885 to 1911, they switched control of Govan with the Unionist Party and National Liberals, but the rise of Labour in the 1918 General Election saw the anti-Tory vote go red instead of Orange. Anyway, history is history, and so are the Liberals in Glasgow South West. Frankly, a coalition of Katie Hopkins and Ebola would be more popular.

There is also a hard-right candidate. The BNP came last in 2010 and the far-right second last in 2005. I'd expect a similar fate for this particular creature. 

I know and admire both the SNP and SSP candidates for the seat. If it was an STV election, I would vote 1. Bill Bonnar, 2. Chris Stephens, but with no transfers up for grabs, I'm not entirely sure whether to vote for Bill or Chris. I will vote for one of them, but I haven't decided which at this stage. If it looks as though Chris will lose the seat comfortably again, I should plump for Bill to bulk up the Socialist vote, but if it's close, I'll have a hard decision to make. I shall almost certainly only decide how I'll vote on the day.

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