Brown faces by-election earthquake, says SNP

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The SNP insisted that it was still on course to deliver a "political earthquake" in one of Labour's safest seats and humiliate Gordon Brown by snatching victory in today's Glasgow East by-election.

But the fiery rhetoric from the nationalists' leader, Alex Salmond, sounded increasingly hollow as the Government appeared likely to hold on to the seat, albeit with a much reduced majority.

In a frenzied last day of campaigning, Labour, defending a 13,507 majority following the resignation of its MP due to ill health, swamped the constituency with 400 activists. The party's candidate Margaret Curran, a local MSP who stepped in after a series of candidates stood aside, claimed the choice for voters would be between "someone who will use every waking hour to stand up and fight for them, or someone who is obsessed with breaking up the UK and will vote with the Tories".

Mr Salmond, making his 11th visit to the constituency in support of the SNP candidate, local councillor John Mason, stuck rigidly to the script. He said the poll was an opportunity for voters to show their anger at Labour, while showing support for the SNP's year in charge of Scotland.

"In terms of the political earthquake, let me say the ground is shaking and shuddering. The earthquake is coming," he said.

Two polls carried out since the by-election was announced showed Labour with a 14 and 17 per cent lead respectively.

Despite Westminster speculation that defeat in Glasgow East could spell the end for Mr Brown's premiership, local issues have dominated – not least unfavourable comparisons made between one of Britain's most deprived constituencies and the Gaza Strip and spats over who had the best local credentials.

Knock-on effect

* Labour win by more than 3,000 – excellent result.

* Lab win by 1,500 to 3,000 – relief for Brown. Are government fortunes picking up?

* Lab win by less than 1,500 – poor result, but not calamitous.

* Narrow SNP win – thevultures circle over Downing Street. Questions over Brown's leadership intensify.

* Comfortable SNP win – Brown doomed. A new leader could be in place in weeks.