Is religion a factor in Glasgow East?

Tom Griffin
5 July 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Back in March I asked whether Labour is losing support among Scottish Catholics, the same question that politicalbetting.com has been considering today in an interesting thread on the Glasgow East by-election.

Many would argue that perceptions of a religious factor in the politics of the West of Scotland reflect an outdated stereotype. The Guardian's report on the selection of SNP candidate John Mason suggest this optimism is not universally shared:

Labour sources suggest that as well as his nationalism, Mason's faith, as a Baptist, will not sit easily with voters in the predominately
Catholic constituency.

One can only hope that Labour's campaign will nevertheless stick to targeting Mason's ideology rather than his religion.

Opponents characterise Mason as a hardline nationalist which, they
claim, does not reflect the sentiments of the voters of Glasgow East.

He has opposed the use of the Union flag and God Save The Queen in
ceremonies for new British citizens, and during the 2006 World Cup he
took up the concerns of a constituent who complained about a local
school flying England's flag of St George.

Ironically, if everything had gone according to plan, Labour's candidate would have been Councillor George Ryan, who has expressed some remarkably similar views:

Cllr Ryan told David Blunkett in 2003 that because the flag and anthem had sectarian and offensive overtures for some Scots, the council would exclude them from a pilot scheme for citizenship ceremonies in the city.

“Unfortunately there is a by-product in the West of Scotland that to some people the Union Flag is not the most universally welcomed symbol,” he told the then Home Secretary. “In some parts of this city and in Central Scotland, it is not perceived as the most inclusive symbol of culture.”

Ryan was probably Labour's best chance of executing the strategy outlined by Martin Kettle:

Brown has told his local coordinator, the canny and experienced Motherwell MP Frank Roy, to run a minimalist strategy focused wholly on the core Labour vote. The campaign will stay ruthlessly away from issues like independence, Wendy Alexander's resignation and the threat to Brown himself. The sole aim is to hold off the SNP in a very low poll held as quickly as possible after Marshall's resignation. Be sure that, if it all goes wrong, Roy will be forced to take the blame rather than Brown.

The BBC's Brian Taylor suggests that the candidate could now be Margaret Curran, who had been one of the favourites to succeed Wendy Alexander as Labour leader at Holyrood.

However, given Labour's pursuit of Alex Salmond over being both an MP and an MSP, it might be rather difficult for Ms Curran to retain a dual mandate. It might, I would suspect, be raised once or twice during the contest.

The SNP has a mountain to climb in the constituency, but as Taylor opines, this is no way to run a by-election least of all one that could determine the fate of Gordon Brown, the Labour Party, and perhaps even the union 

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