Politics: Corruption hangs in air as Labour holds onto Paisley

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Douglas Alexander's election in the Paisley South by-election is vindication of a low-profile campaign which led to him being dubbed the 'invisible man'. Stephen Goodwin reports from the Renfrewshire town on another successful operation by Labour's head-office strategists.

Even as voters went to the polls in Paisley South a councillor suspended by the Labour Party pending the outcome of an inquiry into alleged misconduct was being stripped of a committee post worth pounds 11,000.

Yet the mud flying around Renfrewshire since Gordon McMaster gassed himself, leaving a note alleging smears by neighbouring MP Tommy Graham and former deputy whip Lord (Don) Dixon, never stuck to Douglas Alexander.

The young Edinburgh lawyer who helped write Chancellor Gordon Brown's speeches seemed a world away from politics Paisley-style. Though he was born and brought up in Renfrewshire, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, he was presented as the "local boy" who had gone away and bettered himself.

The Scottish National Party never went for the jugular over Labour sleaze, partly because of the nasty reputation of their own councillors, and failed to ignite a campaign in which they were the only serious challenger. The Tories and Liberal Democrats fielded local women candidates but were always going to be also-rans.

Mr Alexander said the people of Paisley South had kept faith with Labour. "The message ... is that a Labour government delivering on its promises to the people of Scotland leaves the Nationalists with ... nowhere to go."

On a 42.98 per cent turn-out Mr Alexander secured 10,346 votes, Ian Blackford (SNP) 7,615; Eileen McCartin (Lib Dem) 2,582 and Sheila Laidlaw (Con) 1,643. Labour's majority in a traditional safe seat was cut from 12,750 for Mr McMaster last May to 2,731.

The low turn-out was put down to voter fatigue at the third poll in seven months, dreary weather and disillusion with the troubled Renfrewshire council. Though a swing to the nationalists had been expected, Mike Russell, chief executive of the SNP, said the 11- per-cent swing achieved showed Paisley could be won in Scottish Parliament elections. "Six months after the biggest majority for any government this century, Labour is teetering on the brink of defeat in a heartland constituency."

Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, noted that for the first time in 10 years a government had held a by-election seat.