Interview: George Galloway

Set amongst rundown warehouses and bleak cash and carries, the only initial sign of life at George Galloway's Glasgow Southside election HQ, on this sunny Friday morning, is an earnest young student sitting on the steps outside.

Inside, it's a different story, as a dozen bright, politically gregarious 20-somethings prepare to do battle and help bring home the student vote. Angela McCormick, Galloway's running mate on the George Galloway (Respect) Coalition Against Cuts party list oversees proceedings, jotting down suggestions on a huge flip-board.

Galloway arrives thirty minutes later and it's handshakes and hearty thanks all round. Over the background noise he waxes lyrical about his jaunt the night before to the Pavilion Theatre, to see a 60s sing-a-long show. His Gorgeous charms went down well with the show's largely white, female 50-plus Glasgow audience, it seems. No small change for a man whose Westminster career saw him affiliated largely with ethnic minorities, he assures us.

As the students prepare to leave, Galloway wanders over smiling: "That's my laundry arrived by envelope, a clean shirt," he says motioning to the jiffy bag he's carrying, before explaining, we're off to the Gorbals to meet the Muslim community, one of his key demographics, at the Masjid Noor Marzaz Mosque.

As we wait for prayers to begin, he revels in Iain Gray's unfortunate run-in with some anti-cut protesters at Central Station the day before. 'It was like watching a rabbit trapped in the headlights with Iain," says Galloway shaking his head.

When potential voters start to appear, the joke's over. Faster than a cat to cream, Galloway's on it - "Salaam, Salaam-Alaikum" he calls, as men approach the mosque. While some appear indifferent to his arrival, others smile and shake his hand. One man and his two young boys hurry towards him: "You're the man, you're the man"; another follows suit: "You're coming back to Scotland, George? We miss you."

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As Galloway clasps the hands of young and old alike, his long-term right-hand man Ron Mackay pontificates about the upcoming election result. "The Lib Dem vote will disappear. The Tories, they've put out a suicide note." Galloway interjects smiling: "That guy said I was his favourite: I hope you got that. " And he's off again: "Salaam, Salaam brother!"

After the prayers, waiting for the men to file out, Galloway is quick to quash the naysayers who say he's been out of the Scottish loop too long. "Obviously I think I'm quite good but what's more important is how bad everyone else is. It's the flatness of the surrounding landscape that makes me stand out.It's not that I'm back, it's that the political class in Scotland is so shrunken, so parched. The response I'm getting from people is thank goodness.

"When I first came, the Scottish political class was so impressive ... but you look at it now and think how did this happen? It's like Scottish football, it used to be great." MacKay laughs at the joke.

As the mosque empties, some walk past his flyers oblivious or simply uninterested, others loiter a while, intrigued; hardcore Galloway fans smile widely, one asks for a photo. Nearby an older gentleman, Abdul, looks on. He's been following Galloway since 1997. But he's confused by the Scottish voting system, and asks me to explain. Galloway is, he says, the hope for a community he believes has no voice - it simply depends on whether people turn out for him. A fact Galloway is more than aware of. Ask what he can offer the Glasgow people, and he's quick to respond.

"Glasgow people are not one people. They consist of those who are left wing, right wing, Muslim, protestant, Christian, catholic, and so on, so the views are variegated. A lot of Glasgow like me, a lot of them don't. I'd be very disappointed if I didn't have the 11,800 voters I need in the whole of Glasgow. I'd regard that as a very significant personal failing."

Besides, which, he says, it's time for a new voice to be heard.

"What I'll bring is an awareness that Glasgow is currently vastly under-represented in Westminster and especially in Holyrood. Edinburgh has boomed and Glasgow has slumped in the Devolution era. I can see that more clearly because I've been away for six years."

Mosque visit over, we head for a walkabout, and wander towards a cafe. Ray Banns on, sun shining, he's back on the Labour-lamenting bandwagon, suggesting Gray ought to really resign if Labour loses - and offering a warm "Hello" to an unsuspecting local lady mid-rant. "If Labour loses, its him (Iain Gray] that lost it. That's the honest answer." A pause, and a slight smile. "They should invite me to take over the leadership."

He would accept? "Well ... it depends on the policy change it represented."

Inside the cafe, the hot-and-sour soup has barely been ordered and he's back on message. "People are crying out for a political leadership that they think of as brave, clear and unafraid.

"There's almost a city-led consensus that the Scottish Parliament is not as good as it could be, not as good as it gets." Which is not, he is quick to add, to say they're taking a win for granted. It is he says, "a mountain to climb".

The Scottish Parliament is saved mid-bashing by Galloway's phone ringing. Ray, he tells the caller, will look into it now. News International, it seems, have agreed to give some an unreserved (and hefty monetary) apology over the phone hacking scandal, and he's keen to know if he is one of the people in question. He doesn't want to be. He wants Murdoch in court.As coffees are supped dry, I ask whether he feels his personality politics tag works against him. He shrugs. "Better to be a personality that a nobody. Better to be a celebrity than a non-entity. That's what I think most of the people I'm standing against are. There are exceptions obviously but not many."

Based on his outspoken opinions what will the response be if he is elected and gets a seat, does he suppose? "Horror," he says without flinching.

"The Labour ones will know that someone that really, really is Labour has arrived, as the ghost of their past, and the SNP will realise that I'll put their feet to the fire in a way that hasn't been done by anyone since Dewar.

A smile emerges with the trademark blue steely glare. You better believe it.

• Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Tavish Scott will be taking part in a live webchat on scotsman.com on Monday, April 11 at 12pm.

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