Voters in SNP and Labour constituencies explain their general election intentions
With the country ready to go to the polls any week now, just a few votes either way in two adjacent Glasgow constituencies – one SNP, one Labour – could change the political landscape. Chris McCall spoke to the constituents about their intentions
The leaders of the major political parties agree that a general election is likely to take place before the end of the year. But with a date for such a vote still to be confirmed, we are now living through what is effectively an undeclared campaign season.
Many voters in Scotland will soon have taken part in four general elections, two Holyrood ones, and two major referendums on constitutional matters in just nine years. And that’s without mentioning local authority votes or the plebiscite on the electoral system.
Signs of voter fatigue are not hard to find.
Last Friday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell appeared at Glasgow City Halls to set out Labour’s case for how it could transform both the Scottish and UK economies. But there was little talk of politics two miles to the east at the Forge Market, where shoppers were happily wandering among the myriad stalls selling everything from waffles to wardrobes.
It was a chance to stock up for the weekend and enjoy a rare sunny afternoon in what has so far been a dreich September. The prospect of another election was far from most people’s minds.
The market, in the Parkhead district of the city, is in the heart of the Glasgow East constituency – one of the most marginal seats in the UK. David Linden retained the seat for the SNP in 2017 with a majority of just 75 over Labour.
Robert, a hotel worker out running errands, was nonplussed. “Another election? What’s the point?”
Upon reflection, he admitted that he would vote for Labour – grudgingly. “It has to be them if we are to get rid of Boris Johnson,” he added. “But nothing will change. It won’t put any more money in my pocket.”
Outside the Forge, retired railway worker Liz was showing around a visiting friend from Ireland. She cheerfully admitted she was thoroughly disillusioned with politics. “Another election won’t make any difference,” she insisted. “I think the Conservatives will win and Boris Johnson will still be Prime Minister.”
Liz was not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn and would not vote Labour. “Keeping the Union together is what matters most to me,” she said. “I will vote Conservative – even if this is a strong SNP area.”
Standing nearby was Ian, a life-long SNP voter who was now considering his political options. He had voted to Leave the European Union in 2016 and was unimpressed at how negotiations had since been handled.
“This election won’t change anything,” he said, a point made firmly by several other shoppers. “Brexit looks more and more like it won’t happen. I voted for independence and that didn’t happen.”
Glasgow East MP Linden was confident, however, that most people in his constituency were now used to voting on a regular basis.
“I don’t think people will be groaning at the prospect of another general election,” he told Scotland on Sunday.
“It’s an opportunity to send a message to Westminster that they are not happy at how things are done. This is a welcome election in my view. He added: “I was elected with a majority of 75 two years ago. So my campaign for re-election started from the moment that was announced. I feel relaxed about the prospect of an election.
“It’s an opportunity to get our messages across – stop Brexit and give Scotland the opportunity to decide on its future.
“For the last two years, I’ve been working flat out to make sure people trust me as their local MP. I’ve been speaking with a clear, consistent voice on issues such as Brexit and Scotland’s constitutional future – and I’m not convinced the Labour Party can do that with any degree of clarity.”
Glasgow North East
The neighbouring constituency of Glasgow North East closely resembles Glasgow East. There are neighbourhoods of traditional tenements and others with refurbished social housing. You are never far from the M8 motorway or one of its many link roads.
But there is one big difference between the two seats – the sitting MP here is Labour, not the SNP. Paul Sweeney won back the seat for the party in 2017 with a majority of 242, in what was something of a minor electoral upset.
The Labour MP admits that many voters are frustrated at the current political climate.
“There is a real frustration at the logjam in politics just now,” he told Scotland on Sunday. “It’s a result of our divided country over the major constitutional questions. It’s changed the landscape of politics. We’ve seen era of majority governments pass away.”
He added: “There is a concern about apathy. My constituency had the lowest turn-out in the UK at the last election. We need to do more to engage people in democracy.”
Springburn, with its proud history as a centre for railway engineering, was once viewed as a Labour stronghold even by Glasgow standards.
The late Michael Martin, who spent nearly a decade as Speaker of the House of Commons, was MP for the old Glasgow Springburn seat. At the 1997 general election, Martin received a thumping 71.8 per cent of the vote.
But in a post-independence referendum, post-Brexit world, the old political certainties count for little.
The Glasgow North East constituency – of which Springburn is now part – was won by the SNP’s Anne McLaughlin in 2015 before Labour snatched it back.
The constituency will be one of the Nationalists’ key targets whenever an election is called. But voting fever had yet to reach shoppers coming and going from the Springburn Shopping Centre last Friday.
Raymond, an accounts manager, voted in 2017 but said he would not do so next time. He described himself as a frustrated Leave supporter who was angered that Brexit had not taken place.
“I was brought up to vote Labour as they were party of the working man,” he said. “But I don’t trust Jeremy Corbyn.”
Council administration worker Linda, who was on her way to the shops after finishing for the day, told a similar story. “I voted Labour at the last election but I don’t like Corbyn. He’s weak. Nothing he says sticks with me.”
But Sweeney, who was born and brought up in the constituency, said his local connections in the area put him in a strong position when it came to standing for re-election.
“I’ve been a high-profile Member of Parliament,” he said. “I’ve been very visible in the community.
“I knew this was a marginal seat, and an election could happen at any moment, but I have been determined to dispell the old steretype that you only see MPs at election time.
“I have lived and breathed the job since I started. I’m happy to stand on my record.”