Page last updated at 03:41 GMT, Friday, 25 July 2008 04:41 UK

SNP delivers political earthquake

By Brian Ponsonby
Glasgow and West reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Glasgow East MP, John Mason
John Mason's thumbs up at the count signalled his stunning win over Labour

Margaret Curran started her campaign in Glasgow East by declaring that the "Labour fightback starts here".

In Tollcross Park Leisure Centre on Friday morning that fightback crumbled under the force of an SNP-inspired "political earthquake".

The party's John Mason did the unthinkable and took one of Labour's safest seats - overturning a majority of 13,500 with a swing of 22%.

Now the aftershocks are set to resonate all the way to Downing Street.

Yet it all seemed so unlikely right up until polling day.

Labour enjoyed a lead in the opinion polls and, in Margaret Curran, had a feisty Glaswegian who could strike a chord with many voters.

The bookies, who are very rarely wrong, predicted a tight contest, but still made Labour firm favourites.

The Glasgow Fair holiday and the weather did not conspire to decimate turnout - it was 42% compared to 48% in the 2005 General Election.

Labour gloom

But along the way, something went badly wrong for Labour. That much was clear as party workers arrived at the count on Thursday night.

The early gossip of a shock on the cards was reflected in the number of grim faces wearing red rosettes.

When the first ballot arrived from nearby St Paul's Primary polling station at 2215 BST, the seriousness of the situation for Margaret Curran started to become clear.

As packs of party workers huddled near the count tables to glean their own figures the early indications did nothing to lift Labour gloom.

SNP votes being counted
Votes for the SNP were piling up shortly after counting began
Labour activists were heard to mutter that in areas they should be holding, they were either losing to the Nationalists or scraping by.

In stark contrast, one SNP campaigner confidently told a colleague: "We've done well tonight."

Away from the industry of the count, the candidates themselves began to appear.

The Independent Chris Chreighton wore an open jacket to display his t-shirt reading "Chris C for MP".

Green MSP Patrick Harvie was there with his party's candidate, Dr Eileen Duke. Both looked silent and serious as they watched small pockets of votes being counted.

The Lib Dems' Ian Robertson looked introspective, perhaps contemplating a bad night to come.

Scottish Socialist Frances Curran was more upbeat and was all smiles with colleague Rosie Kane.

Their Socialist rival from Solidarity, Trisha McLeish, was supported by a small band of party workers.

Conservative candidate Davena Rankin was by far the happiest, perhaps buoyed by the news that party managers were confidently predicting third place.

Curran arrives

By midnight there was still no news of the main protagonists but speculation was sweeping the hall that the SNP had won the seat with a four-figure majority.

Margaret Curran finally made her entrance at 1230 BST to a loud cheer from supporters - but the noise seemed to be more in defiance than triumph.

She was immediately swamped by cameras and ushered off to the right hand side of the hall by protective aides.

For the next few minutes she stood in the spotlight. Her lips smiled but her eyes told a different story.

Davena Rankin
Davena Rankin was in upbeat mood with her third place finish
Shortly afterwards, the SNP's John Mason made his entrance.

There was another massive cheer but this time the din echoed with confidence - as did Mr Mason's eyes.

He gave a massive thumbs up and everyone knew the Nationalists had just declared themselves winners.

Any hopes, however, of a swift declaration to confirm this were soon dashed.

After 0100 BST, the candidates were called to election officials with the declaration expected shortly after.

But it soon emerged that the margin of victory for the SNP was much narrower than anticipated.

News circulated that it was just over 350 and that Labour had asked for a recount.

There was a brief sense of deflation as everyone anticipated standing around for longer.

'Political earthquake'

When the recount got under way it didn't take long and the figures were confirmed about 40 minutes later.

This time there was no dispute and as the candidates made their way to the stage the unofficial results filtered round.

Labour had lost by 365 votes. The "political earthquake" which SNP leader, Alex Salmond, had alluded to at the start of the campaign was upon us.

The speeches after the declaration told their own story.

Margaret Curran
Margaret Curran was surrounded by supporters after arriving
A delighted yet reserved John Mason determined to prove his worth as an MP.

A disappointed yet defiant Margaret Curran, who pledged to carry on fighting for "Labour values".

Among her many supporters in the audience, some were heard to say she had fought a great campaign and should challenge Mr Mason again at the next general election.

But in the meantime, what next for Labour in Scotland and in the UK?

The party is leaderless north of the border and Ms Curran's defeat in Glasgow East surely makes it unlikely that she will throw her hat into the ring.

Whoever takes over will have the enormous task of rebuilding shattered confidence in the face of a buoyant SNP capable of beating Labour in its own heartlands.

In Downing Street, Gordon Brown will be waking to the aftershocks of the "political earthquake" in his own back yard.

With the size of the swing to the SNP in Glasgow East, many other Labour MPs will think their seats are no longer safe.

If this mood is widespread then the prime minister might find that his job is not safe either.


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