Winner in 2019 – Anne McLaughlin (SNP)

ONE of the key ingredients of the SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics over the last decade and a half has been their ability to win constituencies at completely different ends of the socioeconomic scale, a phenomenon which is relatively rare in most party systems in Western countries.

Glasgow North East is one of the prime examples of the SNP’s success at the lowest end of the income scale. The new version of the constituency, despite its unchanged name, is really a merger between large parts of the old Glasgow North East and Glasgow East seats.

It contains areas with names such as Easterhouse and Cranhill that at times have almost been bywords for poverty and the social problems that go with it.

And yet the SNP won both predecessor constituencies in 2019, by a middling 7.5% margin in the case of Glasgow North East and a heftier 14.5% margin in Glasgow East, in the same general election that saw them also easily win former Tory heartland seats in the north-east, the Highlands and Edinburgh.

READ MORE: Why the independence vote split could give Labour this seat

So how was it possible for the SNP to appeal to voters in affluent localities without automatically repelling the low-income voters of Glasgow North East?

There are several contributory factors, one of which is that Nicola Sturgeon as leader was able to speak the language of working-class Glasgow communities.

But the main explanation must be the transformative effect of the 2014 independence referendum, which unleashed something that had always existed in the poorer parts of Glasgow but had lain dormant, buried beneath the ingrained habit of voting Labour almost as an expression of working-class culture.

Within the new boundaries here, 68% of the population have an exclusively Scottish national identity, higher than the Scotland-wide average and indeed higher than in any other constituency in Glasgow itself.

Yes campaigners in 2014 were for the first time able to fuse that Scottish patriotism with a political project that offered a far more radical betterment of people’s lives than Labour’s tinkering around the edges and indeed very suddenly exposed the Labour v Tory back-and-forth as a small-minded distraction that had helped keep the cycle of hopelessness going for decades.

The SNP's candidate in Glasgow North East Anne McLaughlin The SNP's candidate in Glasgow North East Anne McLaughlin

It’s not known exactly how Glasgow’s UK Parliament constituencies voted in the indyref, but Holyrood’s Glasgow Provan constituency substantially overlaps the new Glasgow North East, and voted 57% Yes, 43% No, making the area one of the most pro-independence in Scotland.

Subsequent SNP General Election victories in the local constituencies can be seen as voters expressing their continuing belief in the Yes project. But it appears that national identity and support for independence is something that only really offsets the cultural pull of voting Labour by default in Glasgow North East, and doesn’t properly overcome it.

Anne McLaughlin, the MP for the old version of the constituency, was the only one of the seven Glasgow SNP MPs to lose her seat to Labour in 2017, and although she won it back in 2019, her majority was notably modest in the context of a nationwide Labour collapse.

A possible explanation is that the Yes factor is only strong enough for the SNP in a constituency like Glasgow North East when independence seems to be within touching distance.

The party has arguably been punished for their perceived kicking of the can down the road, with local voters casting their gaze back to the smaller horizons of the battle between the London parties.

In this election, that could potentially see the constituency reverting to its former paradoxical status as a solidly pro-independence seat that solidly votes Labour, which would be a wake-up call for the SNP that they do actually face an inbuilt electoral disadvantage in the very poorest communities after all.

On the notional results from 2019, McLaughlin will be defending a majority of less than 10 percentage points, which makes this the SNP’s most vulnerable seat in the city.

On a uniform swing, Labour could capture it even if they are as much as 16 points behind the SNP across Scotland. McLaughlin may require a national recovery from her party to have any real chance of holding on.