NICK Clegg will arrive in Scotland today to push his party's election prospects amid growing optimism that the Liberal Democrats can deliver up to 20 Scottish seats in Thursday's election.
• The joke's on him: a child gestures behind Nick Clegg while the Lib Dem leader speaks to the press on a visit to a community centre in South London yesterday. Picture: Getty Images
As the campaign enters its final stretch, party sources said they are "well placed" to steal seats in the west of Scotland by capitalising on a wave of anti-Labour sentiment similar to that seen against the Conservatives in 1997.
Senior figures believe the Lib Dems are "reaping the benefits" of a bounce in Mr Clegg's popularity that could allow them to break the stranglehold Labour exerts on Glasgow and edge towards the ambitious haul of 20 seats – four more than the official Lib Dem target list drawn up before the election began.
Officially, the party is unwilling to revise its target list upwards in the wake of the polling surge, with Lib Dem strategists aware Alex Salmond currently faces embarrassment that the SNP is likely to miss his 20-seat target by some distance.
The Liberal Democrat leader will speak at a town hall event in Glasgow North later today as part of an effort to unseat Scottish Office minister Ann McKechin in a constituency that lies fourth on the Scottish Lib Dem target list.
The party needs a 6 per cent swing to take the seat and it has opted not to send Mr Clegg to more marginal Scottish constituencies in favour of concentrating on Glasgow – a move analysts said could be "hugely significant" if it helps them win in the city.
Mr Clegg's arrival in Scotland will coincide with a visit from David Cameron, who is expected to travel to a marginal constituency this afternoon in only his second trip north of the Border during this campaign.
Having been forced to cancel a previous Scottish event because of the volcanic ash disruption, the Conservative leader comes north in a last-ditch attempt to boost poll ratings that suggest his party has failed to make the same impact in this contest as it has elsewhere in the UK.
In contrast, a Lib Dem candidate, fighting in a seat the party is more and more hopeful of taking, said he was getting a "strong response" from voters on the doorstep that could help the party improve significantly on the 12 seats it currently holds.
"We are the second party in Scotland," the candidate said. "Overtaking Labour is optimistic, but I understand we are expecting to get 20 seats. That is a significant improvement."
A senior Lib Dem source added: "We could have sent Nick to Edinburgh or Glasgow for his last visit. We chose Glasgow and it would be accurate to say we are well placed to steal seats from Labour in the west. If you believe that Nick Clegg going to Glasgow shows that we are feeling very confident, you are reading exactly the right thing."
Another senior Liberal Democrat said the election campaign was "looking good". He added: "If I had any money, I would put it on us coming out of this election with three of the five Edinburgh seats.
"We have four clear targets: the two Edinburgh seats, Glasgow North and Aberdeen South. We are also putting up a very robust campaign in David Mundell's seat where there is a strong liberal heritage. If we came out with four of those five, we would be delighted."
The candidate said it was clear there was a significant anti-Labour vote, and that too was helping their campaign.
"I think we are in a position similar to 1997, where whoever is the challenger to Labour in a particular seat will benefit from the anti-Labour vote.
"There is no doubt there is a real mood for change, in many of the constituencies that have been Labour for a long time and where people feel taken for granted."
These sentiments were echoed by the party's Scottish Westminster leader Alistair Carmichael, who said the Lib Dems were "increasingly confident" in Glasgow North.
"It has been a good campaign for us," he said. "In those seats where we have been working hard for a long time, we have a credibility and we are now reaping the benefits. We are not going to get the same degree of Clegg bounce across the country, but in seats like Glasgow North, where we are the main challenger, the effect has been tremendous."
He said the party's initial target of retaining the seats it has and gaining four more had been "ambitious" but was now achievable following the surge in the polls. "Glasgow North is not a late addition, but voters and commentators now believe it is a credible target," he said.
Katy Gordon, the candidate fighting the Glasgow North constituency, added: "To break through in Labour heartland would be a seismic shock for Labour in Glasgow and, my goodness, they need a shock. They have become so used to taking people for granted. They need a shake-up and I think we are the ones to do it."
Political commentator Gerry Hassan said the importance of the Glasgow seats to the Lib Dems was clear. "I have always bet that Labour will hold (Glasgow North], but there is a chance of the Lib Dems winning it, which will be hugely significant," he said. "The fact that Labour are having to fight on two fronts in Glasgow – Glasgow North and Glasgow East – something they haven't had to do for a generation, indicates that even though they might win both, Labour's hold over the city is weakening."
He added: "Whether this translates into Lib Dem votes, I don't know, but they clearly are feeling good. They have fought a decent election and that has been no accident; it has been the worst Labour campaign in living memory and a rather insipid Tory campaign."
But Mr Clegg's political opponents insisted the Liberal Democrat optimism was misplaced. Ms McKechin said the Liberal Democrat push in Glasgow had "come to a crushing halt".
"Playing the Nick Clegg card days before the election underlines that," she said. "As polling day gets closer, voters in Glasgow and Scotland know they have a choice between Gordon Brown and David Cameron for prime minister and Nick Clegg is nothing more than a distraction from that choice."
A senior Conservative source added: "They are getting carried away. It sounds totally crazy. They are claiming, for example, they could take out David Mundell which is clearly 'candidatitis'."
Key targets for the Lib Dems
LABOUR'S wafer-thin majority of 405, coupled with the absence of incumbent Nigel Griffiths, make this seat the top Liberal Democrat target in Scotland. The party, which already holds the equivalent constituency at Holyrood, needs a swing of just 0.5 per cent to win.
DESPITE having held the seat since 1997, Labour's Ann Begg risks losing out to the Lib Dems, who can count on support in the city's affluent neighbourhoods, most of which lie in the constituency boundaries. The party requires a swing of 1.6 per cent to take it.
THE least deprived of the Glasgow seats would be a significant scalp for the Lib Dems, as they seek to break into Scotland's largest city. Analysts expect a Labour win, but the newly confident Lib Dems could make them nervous. A swing of 6 per cent would secure the win.
Edinburgh North and Leith
LABOUR'S Mark Lazarowicz has held the seat since 2001 and is at real risk from a Lib Dem campaign that is increasingly confident of success, having narrowed the gap in the equivalent Holyrood constituency. The party will need a swing of 2.3 per cent for victory.
Dunfermline & West Fife
OFFICIALLY, this counts as a Labour held seat, despite having been taken by the Liberal Democrats in a by-election in 2006. On that occasion, the party experienced a swing of 16 per cent to take the seat, giving them great confidence of winning again this week.
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
AN EXAMPLE of how confident the party has become comes with news that they believe this seat is in play. The Tories were expected to hold on, and it remains a top Labour target. A swing of 8 per cent will hand it to the Lib Dems.
LABOUR'S troubles in the run up to the election could put this within the grasp of the Lib Dems. Deep divisions in the local Labour party that saw incumbent Anne Moffat deselected could harm their majority. The Lib Dems need a swing of 8.4 per cent to win.
LABOUR incumbent Gavin Strang has stood down after representing the seat since 1987. The Lib Dems will hope the strong anti-Labour feeling, coupled with the loss of his personal vote could enable them to sneak home. They would need a swing of 7.9 per cent to do it.
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