Page last updated at 20:35 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Profile of Glasgow North East

Springburn lies at the heart of the Glasgow North East constituency

By James Cook
Scotland correspondent, BBC News

Red ink has soaked maps of north east Glasgow for almost a century.

During the 1920s and 30s Glasgow Springburn's member of parliament was George Hardie, whose brother Keir founded the Labour Party.

It has been Labour territory ever since: the Hardies' socialist tradition enduring for an unbroken 74 years, almost as long as the Scottish National Party has existed.

The constituency boundaries were redrawn for the 2005 general election to create Glasgow North East, taking in a slice of Bishopbriggs in the north, Maryhill in the west and newly revitalised Dennistoun below the M8 motorway.

But Springburn remains at its heart - and its history is tied to the iron rails that run through it.

Sudan Railways 4-8-2 leaving Vulcan Street in Springburn
Springburn was previously a major player in railway production in Scotland

In 1831 Scotland's first railway began carrying coal across the constituency.

It was the start of an era which would see rail become to Springburn as shipping was to the Clyde.

"Springburn was really the home of railway production in Scotland," said John Messner of Glasgow's Museum of Transport.

"The North British Locomotive Company was the largest locomotive builder in Europe.

"It built locomotives for all the major railway companies in Britain but more importantly sent out thousands of locomotives to railways all across the globe."

The steam engines were forged in the hot, noisy works of Springburn's engineering giants: Neilston & Co, Caledonian Railway and the emblematic North British.

'Painful change'

It was work which required brains as well as brawn and the industry created a highly skilled workforce.

But the dawn of diesel would kill off the steam engine with consequences that are still felt today in Glasgow North East.

For the collapse of North British in 1962 ushered in a period of profound and often painful change.

This had "a huge effect" according to Ronnie Knox, principal of North Glasgow College, who argues that the infrastructure created by the railway companies - housing, shops and schools - began to fall apart as the tenement slums were cleared.

There have been huge strides to improve things over time. It isn't all bad
Ronnie Knox
Principal, North Glasgow College

"As the old tenement buildings started to come down... they were replaced with high rise flats.

"There was no infrastructure, there were no shops, there were no swing parks. There was little or nothing."

The Red Road flats remain the most imposing of the 1960s multi-stories, eight blocks of giddying height, once said to be the tallest residential buildings in Europe.

The towers became landmarks of deprivation in one of the poorest corners of the United Kingdom.

Nearly a third of working age constituents in Glasgow North East are on benefits according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

In September, the rate of people claiming jobseeker's allowance was the highest in Scotland at 7.1% of the workforce.

'Socially deprived'

More than 9,000 people - one sixth of potential workers - were claiming incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance in February, the latest month for which figures are available, the second highest rate in the UK after Liverpool Riverside.

According to John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow North East is "one of the most socially deprived, if not the most socially deprived, parts of Scotland".

Red Road flats under construction
The Red Road flats became "landmarks of deprivation"

In the 2001 census, nearly half of people in Glasgow Springburn said they did not have any educational qualifications - the fourth highest figure in the UK - and almost two thirds said they had no car - second only to neighbouring Shettleston.

About 45% said they had a "limiting long-term illness" and the constituency remains among the worst in Scotland for smoking and crime.

It is also home to Scotland's largest prison, Barlinnie, which is located in Riddrie.

But Ronnie Knox insists these statistics do not tell the whole story.

"There have been huge strides to improve things over time" he said. "It isn't all bad."

For evidence, Mr Knox cites the building around him.

From the glossy façade to the bright interior adorned with white oak, the £42m campus of North Glasgow College is a gleaming symbol of change.

Its portfolio is broad, training mechanics, plumbers and electricians alongside chemists, musicians and beauty therapists.

Other improvements in the area include a new community football facility, better housing and plans to bring the giant Red Road flats crashing to the ground.

But Mr Knox said other regeneration plans had been put on hold because of the recession.

In many ways, the story of Glasgow North East is the story of post-industrial Britain.

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