Analysis

Why Glasgow and Central Belt will be Labour's new 'Red Wall' battle at general election

Labour is setting its sights on reclaiming Glasgow – nine years after losing its grip on the city.

Anas Sarwar has insisted Labour must “rebuild trust and support” if it is to retake the first red wall that fell and recapture the party’s heartland of Glasgow.

If the polls are to be believed, Scottish Labour is on course to return up to 30 MPs following the July 4 general election. A crucial party of that success will be to finally recapture the city of Glasgow, a Labour stronghold that turned away from the party as the independence debate ramped up.

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Although independence still splits Scotland almost 50-50, Glasgow continues to have reputation as a ‘Yes’ city. The SNP has thrived on high levels of independence support in the city.

The statue of former Labour first minister Donald Dewar at the top of Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry/National WorldThe statue of former Labour first minister Donald Dewar at the top of Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry/National World
The statue of former Labour first minister Donald Dewar at the top of Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry/National World
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But a mega-poll published this week suggested Labour had a good chance of recapturing all six Glasgow constituencies, which are held by the SNP. Labour sources suggest this is a real possibility.

The MRP poll from YouGov, published on Monday, forecast that all Glasgow constituencies could be snatched by Labour, with the party expected to make huge gains across the Central Belt.

The mega-poll forecast that Labour is polling 7 per cent ahead of the SNP in Glasgow East, is 12 per cent ahead in Glasgow South and has an 8 per cent lead in Glasgow South West. But other constituencies in the city are tighter.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar alongside deputy leader Jackie Baillie next to the Donald Dewar statue in Glasgow (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar alongside deputy leader Jackie Baillie next to the Donald Dewar statue in Glasgow (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar alongside deputy leader Jackie Baillie next to the Donald Dewar statue in Glasgow (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

The study suggested Labour is ahead by just 4 per cent in Glasgow North, the SNP and Labour are separated by just 1 per cent in Glasgow North East, while the two rivals are neck-and-neck in Glasgow West.

In Tony Blair’s historic landslide victory in 1997, Labour won 56 out of the 72 seats then contested in Scotland – with Glasgow controlled by Labour for 18 years. But at the 2015 general election, held eight months after the independence referendum, the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon won a spectacular 56 seats, snatching 50 gains, including the entirety of Glasgow. Labour managed to take back Glasgow North East under Jeremey Corbyn’s leadership in 2017 – but the SNP took back complete control of the city in 2019.

Mr Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, told The Scotsman that “Glasgow is crucial in this election campaign”.

On a UK level, the focus has been on Labour reclaiming the so-call ‘red wall’ in the north of England where support evaporated away to the Tories over Brexit.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (right) and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar launch Scottish Labour's general election campaign in Glasgow (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (right) and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar launch Scottish Labour's general election campaign in Glasgow (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (right) and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar launch Scottish Labour's general election campaign in Glasgow (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

But Mr Sarwar said: “People often talk about the red wall of England being crucial to the Labour party in England. Actually, the Central Belt of Scotland is really, really important to Labour’s prospects both here in Scotland and across the UK as well.

“It’s not limited to the Central Belt, but, of course, historically we have relied on support in the Central Belt. We have to rebuild that trust and support if we are to deliver a UK Labour government.”

Labour will be pushing a message on the doorsteps that the SNP’s management of the city has let down Glaswegians. Mr Sarwar insisted “people can see the record of SNP failure in Glasgow”.

Party bosses believe pockets of the city’s West End, seen as more middle class and SNP-supporting districts, could give Labour a trickier battle to secure victory in two of the seats up for grab – Glasgow West and Glasgow North. But the Scottish Labour leader has taken a more humble tone to independence in a bid to woo Yes supporters to switch to his party.

Scottish independence supporters marching in Glasgow (Photo by John Devlin/National World)Scottish independence supporters marching in Glasgow (Photo by John Devlin/National World)
Scottish independence supporters marching in Glasgow (Photo by John Devlin/National World)

Noticeably, Union flags have been absent from Sir Keir Starmer’s backdrops on his two visits, so far, to Scotland – while the dragon in Wales is not mirrored by the Saltire in Scotland.

Mr Sarwar is appealing to those in Glasgow, and across the Central Belt, who still want independence, to back his party next month.

He acknowledged why people have “been so angry and frustrated” with the Tory government at Westminster over the past 14 years, who he admits “haven’t thought Labour can beat them and win an election” and have “wanted to look elsewhere or find some kind of escape route”.

Mr Sarwar added: “I think what’s different now is we have changed the Labour party both across the UK and here in Scotland. We have demonstrated that we can win this election. I don’t care how people have voted in the past. I don’t care how they voted in either of the referendums. I am focused on the future.”

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The Scottish Labour leader highlighted his own position, which notably doesn’t oppose an independence referendum happening at some point down the road.

“I don’t support independence, I don’t support another referendum right now, but I recognise people want change”, he said.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (Picture by Lisa Ferguson/National World)Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (Picture by Lisa Ferguson/National World)
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (Picture by Lisa Ferguson/National World)

Mr Sarwar added: “We may ultimately disagree on the final destination for Scotland, but on this part of the journey, let’s travel it together.”

But the SNP has stressed Labour is still not to be trusted by Glaswegians, accusing the party of holding the city with “disregard”.

SNP candidate for Glasgow East David Linden said: “Glaswegians know Labour are the party that presided over the scandalous equal pay scandal and treated our city with glaring complacency while in office.

"They have now compounded that by signing up to Westminster austerity, totalling £18 billion in cuts to public services and offering nothing, but more of the same damaging policies like Brexit.”

He added: “But under the SNP, Glasgow’s avenues, which are at the heart of our city, are undergoing regeneration, while the SNP Government is providing record funding for local authorities and a council tax freeze for every household across Scotland.

“The Labour party has shown again and again the disregard with which they hold Glasgow.”

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