Militant spectre takes on substance: By-elections in Glasgow today look likely to damage Labour. James Cusick sets the scene

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Indy Politics
ABOVE THE PILES of election leaflets in the hallway is a huge poster of Lenin. The living-room furniture has been pushed against the wall to make way for a table and a computer terminal.

Lynn Sheridan's tenement flat is the temporary headquarters of Scottish Militant Labour in Govan. Today in local government by-elections at opposite ends of Glasgow, Militant is confident it can inflict further damage on former Labour Party colleagues who dominate the two councils involved.

Ms Sheridan's brother, Tommy, leader of the anti-poll tax federation, is among five Militant councillors who have won seats at district and regional level in Glasgow since the general election. Last month, Christine Jardine took Easterhouse, one of the city's troubled peripheral housing estates, in a regional by- election. The result prompted an investigation by Labour's Scottish hierarchy as to why support was haemorrhaging to Militant.

Publicly, Labour has explained away Militant's successes as understandable protest voting. Internally, there is now a panic that it is being challenged by the spectre of its own discarded high-profile socialism. Militant's followers believe they did not leave the Labour Party or be thrown out, but that the party left them.

The Glasgow district council seat in Barlanark is a realistic prospect for Militant. But Govan - where the by-election is for a Strathclyde regional council seat - would be a major scalp. In 1989, the SNP's Jim Sillars raised the profile of Govan by ousting Labour in a parliamentary by- election, only to lose it to Labour in the general election last April.

In Govan, male unemployment is running at 26 per cent, with a high proportion being long-term unemployed. Whole streets not in work are easy to find, but not all of the area is in dire straits. Ronnie Stevenson, organiser of Scottish Militant Labour, said: 'The Labour Party seems to think that the bigger the underclass the bigger our vote. That is nonsense. OK, so 40 per cent of Easterhouse are unemployed; that leaves 60 per cent in work, and plenty of them voted for us.'

Alan McCombes, Militant's candidate, had his campaign boosted by endorsements from a former Labour Party constituency secretary and a former Labour MP, Andy McMahon.

Like the poll tax, the potential privatisation of Scotland's water is campaign champagne for Militant and the SNP. That is seen as the Conservative establishment at work, and both are after the anti-establishment vote.

The Labour candidate, Dick Carabine (majority 879), will be a local hero in Labour's Glasgow head office if he holds the seat. As for the Tories, they are not fielding a candidate in Govan due to 'an adminstrative error'.