Not even two football managers may save Labour from relegation

 

There is probably nowhere in Britain where a political party could wheel out two former football managers and hope that this one photo opportunity might win it the election. Nowhere, it seems, except Glasgow.

Last week, in a sign of how desperate things have got for Labour in Glasgow, Scottish Labour played its trump card in the city that means more to it than any other by presenting a former Celtic manager and a former Rangers manager to the press, both of whom endorsed the Labour campaign.

The SNP is pressing hard because it knows how important Glasgow is. This is the city of Labour's birth, of the Red Clydesiders, a city where, for generations, the Labour vote really did seem to be weighed and not counted. But both sides know that if the Nationalists can become the largest party in Glasgow, it will send the message that nowhere in Scotland is safe from the SNP.

Professor James Mitchell, of Strathclyde University's School of Government, said: "The SNP won't get a majority, but they might emerge as the largest party in Glasgow. That would be a huge victory for them and a major blow to the morale of Labour. It would be used by the SNP to show their election victory last year was not a fluke and it would also start to make Scottish Labour's position in Westminster look vulnerable."

Even a few years ago, the thought of taking Glasgow council from Labour would not have been considered by the SNP, but the arrival of proportional representation in 2007 started to erode Labour's power base. Budget cuts, disaffection with the council leadership and a scandal involving the resignation of the then-Labour council leader all ate away at the party until it now appears as if the Nationalists could take this city from the party that has ruled it unchallenged for the past 32 years.

But this has been a tough fight, particularly at the top, where Allison Hunter, the leader of the SNP group, and Gordon Matheson, her Labour counterpart, have traded blows like old-fashioned heavyweights. An SNP victory would be a "stepping stone" to independence, Ms Hunter declared, only to be hit by the Matheson riposte, "No one uses Glasgow as a stepping stone."

Ms Hunter has not made the campaign any easier for her party, first by stirring up that independence issue and then by confessing she did not know whether she would stay on as leader if the SNP does win this week.

It has been generally accepted that Mr Matheson has had a good campaign; but he needed one. It was his decision to purge a number of councillors to make way for new blood, which precipitated the formation of a rival party called Glasgow First, made up – in part – of the very councillors Mr Matheson had removed.

Mr Matheson was clear yesterday what he wants the election to be about. "The SNP are putting the referendum first and Labour are putting Glasgow first," he said. And he added: "The local elections are about local people and local jobs." He knows it is in Labour's interests to keep the contest rooted in Glasgow, away from the SNP's strengths, which are based around the party's Scottish Parliament.

But if the Nationalists do take Glasgow from Labour, then Alex Salmond will be delighted. He will know then that the SNP really has replaced Labour as Scotland's true national party.

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