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BBC's Robin Aitken
"Scotland expects 100% from Labour"
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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Shipyard's threat to Labour
Govan shipyard
The government is under pressure to save the shipyard
By the BBC's Robin Aitken

On Clydeside these days the shipyards have given way to convention centres.

Govan is the one remaining merchant yard on the river. Unless it lands an order for six ferries for the Ministry of Defence it too will close.

And if that were to happen, it would not only be a body blow for the industry, it would also seriously damage the Labour Party in Scotland.

If ever there was a heartland issue for Labour the Govan shipyard must surely be it.

Bygone days at Govan shipyard
Govan shipyard's glorious past
The yard is the remnant of a once-proud industry whose history is intimately bound up with that of the Labour movement.

And politically Govan is seen as a test of whether the government can deliver for its core supporters.

Clydeside and the Labour Party go back a long way.

From the early years of the last century there was a symbiotic relationship between industry and party; Labour was expected to protect and provide.

Union optimism

In the early 1970s - with the occupation of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders - Clydeside gained a reputation for union militancy.

That has gone, but the determination to save the jobs is the same, and the union convener at Govan believes it will be done.

Jamie Webster Union Convenor GMB
Jamie Webster: Hopeful for the future
"I believe that we'll go someway towards reversing the trends in closures, that's a fact," said Jamie Webster of the GMB union.

"And also, reversing the trend in actually looking at the closure of the industry as inevitable. I think we could be at a turning point."

There is no mistaking the depth of commitment to the yard at the offices of the Govan Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar. He knows if the yard closes Labour will pay a price.

"Of course this is going to have electoral implications, not just for me. It will have a bearing throughout Scotland," Mr Sarwar said.

Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar
Mohammed Sarwar MP: A test for Labour
"These are the people who stood with us during the dark days of Labour, they showed their full commitment one election after another election.

"The Conservative Party were winning in England but losing in Scotland, so these are the people that have given us 100% commitment in Scotland, and people in Scotland now expect 100% commitment from the Labour party," he added.

Electoral history

Labour has good reason to fear the Govan factor.

Twice before - in 1973 and 1988 - the Scottish National Party (SNP) has taken Govan from Labour in famous by-election victories.

The SNP believes that in three years in government Labour has already damaged its credentials as a party which stands up for Scottish industry.

The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon believes her party is a real threat to Labour electorally.

SNP's Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon MSP (SNP): Electoral warning
"The more Labour treats its traditional support in the way its done, then the more we'll see switches to the SNP," she said.

Take the Govan constituency where the shipyard is situated it's now a Labour/SNP marginal. It's a seat that the SNP would hope to win at the Westminster election.

If Labour doesn't get its act together and start doing something for the people that it supposedly represents, then I expect the SNP to make real inroads into its heartlands," she told the BBC.

Govan is a community which has endured many hard knocks through the years.

It is now fighting for its industrial life.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Scotland
Govan backers give rallying call
10 Jun 00 | Scotland
Govan lifeline welcomed
18 Apr 00 | Scotland
'Help your heartlands'
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