Political geeks of a certain vintage are still nostalgic for that Portillo moment when, at 3.10 a.m. on 2 May 1997, Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo lost his safe Enfield Southgate seat to a shocked Stephen Twigg. A ripple of applause ran through Britain as the result was read out, turning to screams of delight as people realised the moment signified an end to 18 years of Tory rule and the dawn of New Labour.
There is little prospect of a similar earth-shaking tremor coursing through Scotland next week when the votes are counted in the Holyrood elections. The SNP will be the largest party and their Waitrose wing, the Scottish Greens, will get enough seats to justify their status as the Nationalists’ little helpers. But could Nicola Sturgeon be facing humiliation in her own Glasgow Southside constituency?
Could Labour’s young leader Anas Sarwar overcome Sturgeon’s 9,593 majority and cause the biggest electoral sensation in Scottish politics since Margo MacDonald won the Glasgow Govan by-election for the SNP in 1973? That was a seat which had been held by the Labour party since 1918, apart from a short hiatus in 1950 when the old Unionist Party won it for one term.
Sturgeon lose her seat? Unlikely, I hear you chorus. Her victory is predestined, write most Scottish commentators. But a comrade in East Pollokshields, who has lived in the heart of the constituency for 20-odd years, thinks something is afoot. ‘I don’t think he will win; it’s a hell of a majority to overcome,’ he says of Sarwar’s prospects. ‘But I think he can run her very close, close enough to shake her confidence as she goes into a new parliament and weaken her position within her own party.’
Glasgow Southside is Scotland’s most diverse constituency.