The resignation of David Marshall, Labour MP for Glasgow East, has created a by-election at exactly the wrong time in the polls for Gordon Brown.
For one thing, polls have consistently shown that Gordon Brown and the Labour party are trailing behind the Conservatives nationally, the SNP are riding high in the polls in Scotland, and the country is in the middle of an economic slump.
And in Scotland, Labour are now rudderless, without a leader. Charlie Gordon, Labour MSP and probable leadership contender, has said that it would be unlikely if the leadership battle would begin before the expected by-election date of July 24th.
Even with all this doom and gloom, could Labour really lose this seat?
Here’s how the seat looked in 2005:-
Labour 18775 60.68%
SNP 5268 17.03%
Lib-Dem 3665 11.85%
Con 2135 6.90%
SSP 1096 3.54%
A Labour majority of 13507. Thats 43.66%.
So you can see this is a Labour heartland seat. Labour has ruled over the East End of Glasgow for decades.
In fact, its Labour’s 4th safest seat in the UK; safer than any Labour seat in England or Wales. Only 3 Scottish seats are more comfortable and one of them is the speaker’s seat, Glasgow North East, just neighbouring this one.
So if Labour were to lose this seat, no seat in the UK would be deemed safe. It probably would cause mass panic in Labour MPs and mean the end of Gordon Brown’s tenure of Number 10.
For the SNP to win this seat, they need a swing of 22%.
Lets start by looking at the last opinion poll for Westminster voting intentions in Scotland:-
Lib Dem: 14%
By Electoral Calculus, if this Westminster Poll was replicated in the Glasgow East by-election then the result would be:-
So on current poll data, the SNP would achieve a swing of around 14%, 8% short of what is needed to take the seat. (The same poll data would give the SNP 23 seats in Scotland next Westminster election, 3 over Alex’s Salmond’s target figure of 20.)
Those figures are somewhat replicated at Holyrood too. If we take the comparable Holyrood constituency of Glasgow Shettleston, the election of 2007 results were:-
Labour Frank McAveety 7574 51.17%
SNP John McLaughlin 4693 31.71%
Lib-Dem Ross Renton 1182 7.99%
Con William McNair 946 6.39%
The Holyrood election result and current polls offer more hope for the SNP. Instead of looking for a swing of 22% (from 2005) they now only need a swing of 10% on current form.
There is a complication on both Labour and the SNP’s chances of winning this seat.
It comes not from the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives though. I expect both their percentages to hover around the 10% mark.
It comes from the Solidarity Party’s leader, Tommy Sheridan. It looks likely he will be contesting the seat.
Now its unlikely he will win the seat, despite decades of high-level poverty associated with the seat and the area being natural socialist territory. But he may split the Labour vote and if his campaign gets going he may also take SNP support.
Labour look likely to pick local councillor George Ryan as their candidate. The SNP, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have yet to name their candidate.
Labour hope that being without a leader will help the party. Wendy Alexander’s unpopularity would have made this election a lot tougher for them. It remains to be seen how Gordon Brown’s unpopularity will play in this Labour heartland.
The very fact however that the SNP think they have any chance in this seat must be extremely worrying for the Prime Minister and the Labour Party.
By rights, it should be a shoe-in for Labour.
It isn’t today.