A storm gathers above 'Fortress East End' – but its Labour defenders remain defiant

THEY don't come more Labour than John Smith. The kitchen assistant in an old folk's home is standing on Wellshot Road, outside the public library where David Marshall, the retiring MP for Glasgow East held his surgeries.

Mr Smith, 39, is pondering what the SNP will require to capture the seat and overturn a majority of 13,507 votes. He sighs then says: "A miracle?"

Mr Smith describes himself as a "Labour man" in a constituency that has never returned any other party. Even today, with Wendy Alexander's resignation and Gordon Brown's current woes, he refuses to even contemplate ticking any other party's box.

"I'll vote Labour, everyone here votes Labour."

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Glasgow East is a new constituency with old problems. Born in 2005, following the reorganisation of Scotland's constituencies, it now includes the former Ballieston constituency as well as parts of Shettleston which, unfortunately, makes it the poorest and unhealthiest in Britain. This may be Labour's heartland, but if so it is one clogged by unemployment, drug abuse, depression and obesity.

Male life expectancy across the city's East End is 68, five years less than the Scottish average, while in Shettleston it drops to just 63. Women, meanwhile, live on average to 74, which is still three years less than the national average. Across the area, 30 per cent of the population is described as "deprived", while 25 per cent are unemployed, compared with a national average of 5 per cent. Mortality rates from cancer and heart disease are all above average, with smoking in some pockets running at 50 per cent.

While large swathes of Glasgow have been transformed in recent years, the East End has lagged behind with many residents still stuck in poor-quality housing and troubled by anti-social behaviour, despite Glasgow Housing Association investing 90 million in the area over the last five years.

There is the hope that Parkhead – the area that is home to Celtic Football Club and where 63 per cent of children live in homes on benefits – will be given a dramatic boost by the development of new leisure facilities and homes planned to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Yet a tour of Glasgow East reveals a mixture of hope, anger and apathy which the SNP will struggle to mix into a recipe for electoral success. In the last election in 2005, Labour snared 60.7 per cent of the vote with the SNP coming second with 17 per cent.

Sheltering from driving rain in the entrance of the Town Tavern on Shettleston Road, Hugh Muldoon, 66, draws on a cigarette and considers the possibility of an SNP victory. "No, sorry, I just don't see it," he says, smiling and shaking his head. "The only way is if they could muster up enough staunch supporters to outnumber the loyal Labour voters who may be affected by the growing, in fact, vast majority of people who are utterly apathetic. They could do it, but that will be hard."

HIS view on Alex Salmond does not help their cause. "He's picking fights and not putting the best interests of the country first."

A few miles up the road, standing in a brief pocket of sunshine on Ballieston main street, George McGuire, 45, a gardener and his wife, Janice, 47, a cleaner, would disagree. The pair were two of the 5,268 SNP voters who turned out at the last general election and believe that there is a chance, a slim one granted, that the party could pull off a historic swing and so secure the seat. "I would hope to see a change," says George. Labour has been in power too long, they have made too many promises they can't keep and at the moment the party is in disarray."

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Behind the counter of the SoLo Convenience store, its owner, Natalie Greggan, 25, has yet to encounter a party for whom she would cast a vote and so, like many others, will let the forthcoming local election pass her by. "I suppose that Gordon Brown is having such a hard time that maybe someone might beat Labour."

The key to Alex Salmond's success lies back on Wellshot Road in Shettleston with voters like Jeanette West, 58, a waitress. She is a traditional Labour supporter who could not countenance a vote for the Conservatives, but who has grown weary enough with Labour that she is considering voting SNP. "Nothing seems to get done, we need more police on the streets and we need the potholes in the roads fixed and it just hasn't happened. I'm just an ordinary working person. I couldn't vote for the Tories, but I might give the SNP a chance to see what they could do."

The spectre of Tommy Sheridan could come back to haunt the big players

A VICTORY in Glasgow East should – under normal circumstances – be a formality for Labour. David Marshall won the seat in 2005 with a majority of 13,507, making it the party's eighth-safest seat in Scotland. But by-elections are different.

George Ryan, a Labour councillor in Glasgow, was being mentioned as the likely Labour candidate. Mr Ryan

is local and known in the area. He has represented Labour voters there for some time and knows the issues. His selection would send out the right message about the party's intentions.

Other possible candidates include Charan Gill, the Asian entrepreneur whom Jack McConnell tried to parachute in for the Glasgow Cathcart by-election in 2005, and Lesley Quinn, the ex-general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party.

There are also strong indications the SNP will pick a local candidate. Lachie McNeill, the 56-year-old advocate who fought the seat in 2005, had already been selected as the SNP's preferred candidate for the seat at the next General Election, and it would be unusual to displace him.

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However, both SNP and Labour could suffer if Tommy Sheridan, right, was up for the seat.

Solidarity said it would contest the poll and Mr Sheridan, awaiting trial on perjury charges, is a possible candidate.