A LEADING campaigner against plans for the reorganisation of hospitals services in Glasgow is to stand in next year’s Holyrood elections, putting a key Labour seat under serious threat, it emerged last night.
Dr Jean Turner announced that she will challenge the Labour MSP, Brian Fitzpatrick, by standing as an independent in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency.
Her intervention, which will seriously concern Labour leaders, comes at a time when public protests are growing at plans, endorsed by the Scottish Executive, for changes which will result in the number of accident and emergency departments in the city being cut from five to two.
Dr Turner managed to slash Labour’s large majority when she stood in Strathkelvin and Bearsden at a by-election in June last year, caused by the decision of Sam Galbraith to quit politics.
The retired GP, who ran a dynamic campaign against the hospitals proposals, came second to Labour when she stood as the Save Stobhill Hospital candidate. Mr Galbraith’s majority of more than 12,000 at the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections was cut to less than 8,000.
Dr Turner recently called on Lord Watson, the MSP for another Glasgow constituency - Cathcart - to resign. Lord Watson has been under fire for campaigning in public against the Executive plans to reform Glasgow hospitals while voting for the plans in his capacity as a minister.
Dr Turner said last night she felt she could not walk away from the issue because the views of Glasgow citizens were being ignored by the politicians.
"No-one seems to be pressing the case - it seems there is no democracy left in the country," she said. "People are quite fed up with party politics."
Her decision comes on a weekend when 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow to protest against plans to close its accident and emergency department.
Dr Turner said she had never witnessed so many Labour supporters saying they were no longer prepared to tolerate the lack of action by the party’s MSPs.
She added: "People are not stupid. They see politicians being more concerned about saving their careers. Mike Watson has astonished a lot of people because of the position he has adopted."
Dr Turner told the BBC Holyrood programme last night that she believed people had been let down by their MSP since he had failed to represent their interests on the future of Stobhill Hospital. Party interest had come before the interests of local people, she said.
Officials of Greater Glasgow Health Board admitted during the furore that they have yet to convince people that a huge investment is being made in improving the hospital service for the entire city.
Mr Fitzpatrick could not be contacted last night and there was no official response from the Labour Party.
However, Labour sources said that if Dr Turner succeeded as a candidate, Glasgow citizens would not be well served by someone who was fighting on a single issue.
One source said: "Such a candidate would not have the ability to influence the hospital situation. The 700 million of investment in Glasgow’s hospitals will still go ahead and it will be the Executive who decides how the money is spent."
The Labour source suggested that experience elsewhere had shown that a candidate fighting on a single issue was not the best person to represent voters on wider matters.
Lord Watson first ran into trouble over his stand on the hospital review when he voiced his criticisms of the decision of the health board and the Executive to approve it. The SNP accused him of breaching ministerial guidelines on collective responsibility because he had failed to stick by Executive policy.
However, Lord Watson voted with the Executive when the issue was debated in the Scottish Parliament.
During the Strathkelvin and Bearsden by-election in June 2001 - held in the same day as the general election - Dr Turner won support from throughout the constituency.
Her late entry into the campaign was a bombshell for the established political parties and was heightened by the decision of the Scottish Socialist Party to stand down and invite its supporters to vote for Dr Turner, who worked in a practice in Springburn for 25 years.