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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 17:52 GMT
Anniesland double-header

The untimely death of Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar leaves Labour with two seats to defend at the forthcoming by-election on 23 November: one at Westminster, the other at Holyrood.

The double-header is a two-horse race between Labour and the SNP, with the nationalists hoping to pull off the triumph they came close to at last year's by-election in Hamilton South.

At the 1997 general election Mr Dewar, who died in October from a brain haemorrhage, increased to 15,154 his majority in the seat he held since 1978.

Then in 1999, at the first elections to the new Scottish Parliament, he also became the constituency's MSP with a majority of 10,993.

1997 general election result
Labour: 20,951 (61.8%)
SNP: 5,797 (17.1%)
Tory: 3,881 (11.5%)
Lib Dem: 2,453 (7.2%)
Lab majority: 15,154 (47.73%)

Glasgow Anniesland is a mainly working-class area that also includes the smart suburb of Kelvinside and one of Scotland's most prestigious private schools, the High School of Glasgow.

Although the constituency includes part of the Yarrow shipyard, it is by no means an industrial seat.

But the bulk of its housing are council estates with areas like Drumchapel, experiencing a range of problems relating to social and economic deprivation.

Almost 11% of the male population of the constituency is out of work and claiming benefits, compared with 3.6% of women.

Traditional Labour seat

When Mr Dewar, a native Glaswegian, first won the seat - formerly known as Glasgow Garscadden - he had to beat off a challenge from the Scottish National Party (SNP) in a victory which has since been seen as the moment that the nationalists' 1970s flurry of electoral success ended.

Donald Dewar
Donald Dewar: A hard act to follow
In subsequent elections he made the constituency his own - endearing himself to voters with his legendary energy, strong social conscience and old-fashioned courtesy and charm. That personal legacy will help Labour.

But Mr Dewar is a hard act to follow and the danger for Labour is that the SNP will make significant inroads into what in 1997 was a healthy 15,000-plus majority.

This is precisely what happened at the Hamilton South by-election following George Robertson's elevation to the House of Lords.

On that occasion Labour suffered a serious scare when the nationalists managed a 22.5% swing to come within 600 votes of taking the seat. A similar swing would do the job in Anniesland.

Candidates' line-up

If current polls prove correct, though, the man most likely to succeed Mr Dewar is still Labour's John Robertson, chair of the local party in Anniesland.

He had already been chosen to fight the seat at the next general election in place of Mr Dewar, who had decided to forego Westminster to focus on Scotland.

Polls show his strongest challenger to be the SNP's Grant Thoms, a community worker from Glasgow.

Like Mr Robertson, Mr Thoms had also been selected as his party's candidate for the next election. Both now do battle at the polls somewhat earlier than planned.

Eye on their majority

While Labour strategists will be warily eyeing the size of their majority for the Westminster constituency ahead of next spring's expected general election, keeping the Holyrood seat looks a much narrower contest.

1999 Scottish Parliament election result
Labour: 16,749 (58.81%)
SNP: 5,756 (20.21%)
Tory: 3,032 (10.65%)
Lib Dem: 1,804 (6.33%)
Lab majority: 10,993 (38.6%)
Polls suggest the two parties are running neck-and-neck. The SNP could also benefit from the current skirmish over the Scottish executive's plans to transfer Glasgow's council housing to housing associations.

And Anniesland's considerable pensioner vote, which seethed at this year's meagre 75p-a-week rise in the state pension, may not have been fully placated by by the government's mini-budget earlier this month.

Labour is fielding left-wing Glasgow city councillor Bill Butler, the husband of Glasgow Maryhill MSP Patricia Ferguson.

The SNP's candidate, Anniesland solicitor Tom Chalmers, is a member of the party's national executive commitee.

Full list of candidates for the Glasgow Anniesland Westminster by-election:
Dorothy Luckhurst (Conservative); William Lyden (Family Action Movement); Charlie McCarthy (Scottish Socialist Party); Christopher McGinty (Liberal Democrat); John Robertson (Labour); Grant Thoms (Scottish National Party).

Candidates for the Glasgow Anniesland Scottish Parliament by-election:
Bill Butler (Labour); Thomas Chalmers (SNP); Judith Fryer (Liberal Democrat); Rosie Kane (Scottish Socialist Party); Dr Kate Pickering (Conservative); Murdo Ritchie (Socialist Labour Party), Alastair Whitelaw (Green).

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See also:

09 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Nominations in for by-elections
08 Nov 00 | Scotland
Labour pursues Dewar's legacy
06 Nov 00 | Scotland
Dewar by-elections gather pace
31 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Blair faces triple by-election test
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