Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Is Labour facing Glasgow upset?

By Laura Kuenssberg
Political correspondent, BBC News

"People here would vote for a donkey if it was next to the Labour box on the slip."

Willie Bain, Ruth Davidson, David Kerr and Eileen Baxendale
The four main candidates in the Glasgow North-East by-election

That was how one passer-by on Glasgow's Alexandra Parade shopping street described local voters' loyalty to the Labour Party last week.

But with the government in the doldrums and Gordon Brown's own reputation under constant fire, is that still really the case?

The Glasgow North East by-election, prompted by the departure of Michael Martin from the Speaker's chair will put that to the test.

As potentially the final vote of its kind before next year's general election, it will provide a clue as to how sticky Labour's traditional support is, or just how many of their long-time supporters across the country may desert them.

The Glasgow North East constituency, which includes small pockets of new prosperity alongside some of the poorest areas in the whole country, has been a Labour seat for decades.

Public anger

Mr Martin first represented it, under its previous incarnation as Glasgow Springburn, from 1979.

I've been a Labour man all my life, but they're all out to line their own pockets
Glasgow North-East voter

At the last general election in 2005, as convention dictates, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats contested the seat, as it was held by the Speaker.

The Scottish National Party did, coming second, but polling only around a third of the votes received by Labour.

The nationalists, who since then have taken over the devolved government in Edinburgh, are certainly Labour's main challengers here.

And it would be surprising if some votes did not shift to them. Public anger over Westminster expenses and malaise with a third-term government is in evidence.

As one man said to me: "I've been a Labour man all my life, but they're all out to line their own pockets. I'm thinking about moving to the Scottish National Party now."

Yet after the SNP's difficulties in selecting and sticking to a candidate, there is no real sense that they yet have any momentum.

They have a polished candidate, certainly, in the former journalist David Kerr.

Electoral disaster

But Labour's Willie Bain is deeply dug in, having worked for the party for a long time, and having spent many months cultivating support.

The Conservatives are putting on a brave face in the form of a young, energetic candidate Ruth Davidson, another former journalist.

Willie Bain
Willie Bain is defending a huge Labour majority

However, both they and the Lib Dems, with candidate Eileen Baxendale, will be lucky to have much of an impact.

In the by-election in the neighbouring constituency of Glasgow East last year, the Tories and the Lib Dems came a distant third and fourth, respectively.

Despite a sprinkling of semi-famous faces in the race - the perma-tanned former Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan and John Smeaton, the Glasgow Airport worker who thwarted a terrorist attack - there is not much sign that this race has really got going.

The British National Party, who have traditionally not campaigned in Scotland, might pick up some votes, potentially even coming ahead of the Tories and Lib Dems.

Yet so far there are no strong signs of a huge upset.

There is no heavy evidence that the SNP has run an effective enough campaign to overturn Labour's huge majority.

Mr Brown will hope so, because losing Glasgow North East, one of Labour's staunchest urban strongholds, would mean he was staring at electoral disaster.

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