Militant wins safe seat from Labour

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE LABOUR PARTY'S traditional role as the unquestioned voice of the left in Scottish local government politics has been thrown into doubt with another victory by Scottish Militant Labour in a regional council by-election on Thursday.

Earlier this year, Scottish Militant won three seats in Glasgow's district council elections. Its leader, the anti-poll tax campaigner Tommy Sheridan, who is also district councillor for Glasgow Pollok, said yesterday: 'There is now no safe seat left for Labour.'

His comment would have been regarded as outrageous even a few months ago. But the threat from Militant is now something Labour will wish to combat urgently.

Henry McLeish, Labour's local government spokesman in Scotland, said he was 'disappointed' at the result in Glasgow's Gartloch-Easterhouse constituency. He added: 'We will now be taking a long hard look at the implications of this and tackling the deficiencies we've experienced.'

At the council elections two years ago, Labour polled almost 3,000 votes in Easterhouse, one of the peripheral housing estates in Glasgow were Labour is regarded as being electorally almost impregnable. On Thursday, their vote fell to 941, with the Scottish Militant Labour candidate, Christine McVicar, securing 1,791 votes.

The Scottish National Party also performed poorly, its vote falling from 1,000 at the last election to 474. Although the arithmetic is only a snapshot of Scottish politics in one West of Scotland area, Labour will not like what it is seeing. And Mr Sheridan knows it.

Militant Labour had been thought to be a one-man party. Mr Sheridan's release from prison in July after serving a six-month sentence related to an anti-poll tax protest only added to his party's public profile. However, the Easterhouse win proves Militant is capable of widening its appeal throughout Scotland.

Although Labour spokesmen denied that the party had given the Easterhouse by-election its full attention, it did campaign hard, sending in Tom Clarke, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and Donald Dewar, its social services spokesman. One Labour insider said: 'We would be telling a lie if we said we didn't now regard them as a force in Scottish politics. We once had the left to ourselves, as we still do in England. Now in Scotland that position is shared by both the SNP and now Scottish Militant.'