The National:

Winner in 2016: Humza Yousaf (SNP)

HERE are two historical facts that might surprise you about Pollok: It was represented at Westminster by a Conservative MP as recently as 1970, and the SNP came reasonably close to taking it in a by-election in the same year that Winnie Ewing won Hamilton.

Those facts are not unconnected, because it was the SNP’s success in the 1967 by-election that ate heavily into the Labour vote and allowed the Tories to come through the middle and win with a mere 37% of the vote. By a strange quirk of fate, the defeated Labour candidate was Dick Douglas, who more than two decades later briefly served as an SNP MP himself.

But even once the SNP tide had inevitably subsided at the 1970 General Election, the Tory MP Esmond Wright still came within less than 2% of hanging on, which demonstrates just how different the character of the constituency was in those days. As late as 1974, it was considered a promising enough Tory target for the ambitious figure of Ian Lang – later the Secretary of State for Scotland – to put himself forward as the candidate, and his margin of defeat was less than 8%.

In 1983 a young Jackson Carlaw tried his luck, but by then the local voting trends had fundamentally changed, and the future Scottish Tory leader took a poor 20.5% of the vote – in spite of the fact that his party were in the process of winning a UK-wide landslide.

More recently, the constituency flaunted its change of direction by becoming known as Tommy Sheridan country, both at Westminster and Holyrood level. The radical socialist first contested Pollok in the 1992 UK General Election as a Scottish Militant Labour candidate while he was serving a prison sentence for his involvement in the campaign to resist paying the poll tax.

Paradoxically, what should have been a huge disadvantage almost certainly worked in his favour, and he secured a remarkable second place with 19% of the vote. Instead of celebrating at the count, he ended up being interviewed on the TV results programme by phone from prison.

After a more pedestrian result in 1997, he stood in the Holyrood version of the seat for the new Scottish Socialist Party in the inaugural Scottish Parliament election of 1999, and managed a slightly higher share of the vote than in 1992. Although that was only enough for third place, it didn’t matter, because the success of his constituency campaign helped propel him to a Glasgow-wide list seat. By 2003, he was at the height of his powers, leading the SSP to six list seats and achieving his best constituency result in Pollok by leapfrogging the SNP into second place.

A further 8% swing from Labour at the following election would have gained him the seat from Johann Lamont, but of course before another election took place, the SSP imploded. Sheridan never fought the Holyrood constituency again – although he did have a crack at the Westminster seat of Glasgow South West in 2010.

With Sheridan having departed the scene, Pollok abruptly defaulted to being a very traditional Labour-SNP battleground, with trends similar to the other Glasgow constituencies. As was the case in much of the city, the seat was a coin toss when Alex Salmond won his overall majority in 2011– but the coin came down in Labour’s favour, with Johann Lamont holding on by just 623 votes.

In the long run that worked out rather nicely for the current Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, because the defeated SNP candidate Chris Stephens turned his attentions to Westminster, leaving the way clear for Yousaf to take advantage of the Labour slump in 2016 to defeat Lamont and become the SNP MSP for Pollok. For the first time since devolution, Lamont will not be the Labour candidate this year. Yousaf will instead have to contend with a remarkable array of minor party and fringe candidates, some of whom may be motivated by his association with the controversial Hate Crime Bill.

However, with a majority of more than 6000 votes to defend, and with no sign of a Labour fightback of any significance, his re-election should be little more than a formality.