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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK

UK Politics

SNP seeks spirit of 1967

George Robertson has a 16,000 majority in Hamilton South

The Scottish National Party is hoping history will repeat itself in the by-election for Nato Secretary General designate George Robertson's seat.

BBC Scotland's Alan Mackay reports on George Robertson's appointment.
The Hamilton South MP and UK defence secretary must now relinquish his long-held constituency seat in order to take up the new post.

And nationalists say the move will give them a chance to stage another sensational comeback in the constituency.

[ image: The SNP aims to turn back the clock]
The SNP aims to turn back the clock
In 1967, Winnie Ewing swept to an historic victory in what was then the Hamilton constituency, rejuvenating the nationalist movement.

Before a date for the Hamilton South by-election has even been announced the SNP is promising Labour another tough fight for the seat, which Mr Robertson has held since 1978.

Mr Robertson's elevation to Nato will also trigger a Westminster Cabinet reshuffle and attention is already turning to Mr Robertson's successor.

Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid is thought to be the most obvious candidate, having previous experience of the Ministry of Defence.

If Dr Reid goes, he could be replaced at the Scottish Office by Brian Wilson, who according to his critics, would keep a tight rein on the Scottish Parliament.

Sizeable majority

The SNP, if it is to repeat Winnie Ewing's historic victory, will need to overhaul Mr Robertson's sizeable 16,000 majority.

Nato Secretary General Designate George Robertson tells the BBC about his appointment.
"The SNP approach the Hamilton South by-election with optimism, and will fight to win," said a party spokesman.

"It will clearly be a two-horse race between the SNP and Labour - with this week's Glasgow Herald/System Three poll showing the SNP continuing to move forward nationally, with support at 30% plus."

The spokesman also asserted that on the strength of the SNP showing in the Scottish and European Parliament elections, the swing needed to take the seat has reduced considerably.

"Labour have serious problems in Scotland, and recent elections show that they are increasingly unable to get their vote to turn out," he added.

[ image: Mr Robertson says his seat will stay with Labour]
Mr Robertson says his seat will stay with Labour
"The SNP, by contrast, are highly-motivated, and looking forward to the contest."

A Labour spokesman said the by-election would not be called immediately, because Mr Robertson would not be taking up his new post until October.

"We want to ensure the people of Hamilton South are left without an MP for the shortest possible time but the election cannot be held 'next week'," said the spokesman.

But Mr Robertson said he was confident his constituents would remain loyal to Labour.

"I think having rejected the nationalists in the last six elections when they have elected me that they will be unlikely to seek their salvation for the future in nationalism again," he said.

Domestic comeback?

The 53-year-old also refused to rule out a return to domestic politics once his four-year term is over, saying he would hardly be an elder statesman when his appointment came to an end.

"You would be well advised not to rule out anything in politics," he said.

Liberal Democrat MSP Iain Smith said: "At the Scottish elections this May the Scottish Liberal Democrats increased our share of the vote in Hamilton South as our appeal spread amongst voters throughout the country.

"This by-election is very different - but as in May Scottish Liberal Democrats will fight for every vote."

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04 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Reid tipped for defence job

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New reshuffle looms

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