Politics: Paisley voters set to test Labour's mettle

Voters in Paisley South go to the polls today in the first real test for the Government since its general election victory. Stephen Goodwin watched the final day of campaigning.

The "wee boy", as Paisley women of maturer years call Labour's Douglas Alexander, looked in confident mood yesterday as he glad-handed shoppers in the centre of Scotland's largest town.

And well he might. Voters seem to have separated the pristine young candidate from the grubby machinations of Old Labour in Paisley and surrounding Renfrewshire and it is too early to blame the Government for the town's high unemployment.

The Scottish National Party needs a swing from Labour of 17 per cent to take the seat left vacant by the suicide of Gordon McMaster in July. The figure is not unprecedented, but the SNP has struggled to create any of the buzz which presages a by-election upset. A very low turnout offers the SNP its best chance. Dampweather, voter fatigue at a third visit to the polls in seven months, and disillusion with Renfrewshire council, could bring the turnout to as low as 50 per cent, according to one campaigner.

Most of the stay-at-homes will be Labour voters. SNP supporters are generally more committed and the same must be true of most Tory and Liberal Democrat voters in Paisley. The under 7,000 "Buddies" who shared their votes between the two parties last May surely did so out of belief rather than any expectation of winning.

Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, is understood to have begun asking searching questions of his team as to why the campaign did not ignite. Unless the voters deliver a surprise SNP victory today, the inquest could be bitter.

All the main parties had big hitters out for the final day - Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Salmond, Jim Wallace, president of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and Peter Lilley, the shadow Chancellor.

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