Result: Labour has held on against the SNP with 59.4% of the vote. The SNP polled 20%, while the Conservatives polled 5.2%. The BNP came fourth with 4.9% followed by former socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan and the Liberal Democrats.
Voters are now going to the polls to elect a new Member of Parliament in the Glasgow North East constituency in Scotland. Vacated by Speaker Michael Martin in June after he was forced from the Speakership, the seat has seen a fierce contest between the ruling Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, the third such contest since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.
Michael Martin won the former seat of Glasgow Springburn for the first time in 1979 for Labour, and held the seat up until the 2005 election, when a redistribution saw Scotland’s seat numbers reduced and the new seat of Glasgow North East created. Martin was elected Speaker in 2000, when he renounced his Labour membership and ran for re-election in 2001 and 2005 as an independent. In line with convention, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both declined to run in his seat, although the SNP has bucked that trend.
At first glance, you could argue that recent election results in the seat have little bearing on the real state of political opinion in the seat. However, examining the results from the 1997 election, it’s clear that Martin didn’t need the absence of two major parties in order to win a large margin, winning 71% in 1997. The SNP polled 16% and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats polled 6% and 4% respectively. In 2005 Martin polled 53%, the SNP polled 17% and the Socialist Labour Party 14%, undoubtedly due in part to their being the only party with the name ‘Labour’ on the ballot.
Gordon Brown has had a poor record of winning by-elections in his two years as Prime Minister. Glasgow North East is the fourteenth by-election since the 2005 election, and the ninth since Brown took office in 2007. The Liberal Democrats won the Scottish seat of Dunfermline and West Fife off the Labour Party in February 2006, and Labour lost a further three seats in by-elections in 2008 and 2009.
The Conservatives won the seat of Crewe and Nantwich in Cheshire in May 2008, before the Scottish National Party won Glasgow East in July 2008. Glasgow East was one of Labour’s safest seats and came as a shock to the party barely months after the SNP won power in the devolved Scottish Parliament. Yet another fiercely contested Scottish by-election came along in November 2008 in Glenrothes, where there were expectations of yet another SNP win off a large swing. While the SNP did gain ground, Labour managed to retain the seat with a 19% margin. The last by-election in the UK was held in July 2009 in Norwich North, after the sitting Labour MP resigned over the expenses scandal which engulfed Westminster over the northern summer. The seat was won by the Conservatives.
Since their win in the Scottish elections and Glasgow East in 2008, the shine has worn off the Scottish Nationalists, with Labour fighting hard in this by-election. While the SNP should gain ground on Labour, it will be extremely difficult for them to make the gains needed to win the seat.