Referendum battlegrounds: Getting the Glasgow Vote

As ever, while Edinburgh may be the official capital city of Scotland, everyone knows that Glasgow is the true political hub of the nation, and this remains the case ahead of next week’s referendum. With 474, 184 people registered to vote, 11.5% of the total Scottish electorate, it represents one of the key battlegrounds for next week.

Both Better Together and Yes Scotland are acutely aware of this fact. Yesterday an army of Labour MPs descended into Glasgow City Centre to campaign. They were met by Yes supporters. Under the shadow of the statue of Donald Dewar speeches were made, arguments were thrown about and the public got to see a rare example of proper street level politics.

The message was clear – Glasgow will be at the heart of the referendum campaign. Where the city goes, so too will the rest of the nation is the theory. There are also deeper issues within Glasgow, namely the on-going battle between the SNP and the Labour Party for the city’s voters. For the last five years the SNP have been making a serious push into the heartlands of the party’s base of supporters. This can easily be seen in difference in vote share the SNP experienced in 2010 and 2011 in the city;

2010 – 17.25%
2011 – 45.21%

There was an understandable excitement therefore when the 2012 local elections came around. Glasgow City Council had been ruled by Labour for decades, and the SNP were hopeful to overturn the status quo, and cut off one of the centres of power for the party. If this was achieved it would create a storm perhaps even larger than the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.

In the end, the SNP did well by getting an 8% swing, and five additional seats. Labour lost a seat, but also saw a smaller swing. A decent result, but hardly the game changer that the SNP leadership had predicted during the campaign.

What does this tell us about Glasgow? Firstly, Labour knows the city inside and out. Their ability to get the vote out, coupled with an effective local campaign machine has acted as a bulwark even when other parts of the party have been decimated. Even at this year’s European Elections, Labour got nearly 10,000 more votes than the SNP.

Secondly, while Labour can hold onto Glasgow, voters do have a degree of flexibility about where they put votes. They recognise the difference between a General Election and a Scottish Parliament election and will vote accordingly. The fear for Labour will be those party voters who polling suggest will be voting Yes. Once that cross on the ballot paper has been made, there may be difficulty in getting them back into the fold.

The upshot of this is that predicting the voting patterns in the city is very difficult, and this has been reflected in polls which put the city at about 50/50. When looking at regional breakdowns of a national poll published this week, there was a suggestion No was in the lead 49, to the Yes side at 41. However the numbers are so small it is difficult to make a judgement call.

When the announcement is made on the night it should be remembered that the turnout and breakdown of the vote in Glasgow isn’t just about the referendum. It is about the balance of power between the two parties for both 2015, and 2016. Win Glasgow, and anything is possible for the SNP. Hold onto Glasgow and Labour is in strong place to launch the comeback to the Scottish Parliament.

Once again, Glasgow is at the heart of all things.

By Rob

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