Glasgow East as-it-happened

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Polls have opened in Glasgow East for what’s gearing up to be the most pivotal by-election of Gordon Brown’s leadership. We will be here all day and night covering events as they happen until the result is announced.

The Scottish National party (SNP) candidate, John Mason, cast his vote already – along with the first few voters assembling at the polling station. The SNP tell me all four voters before him said they were voting SNP, but then that’s the kind of thing you say when greeted by a bunch of activists.

Heading into the polling station in Barlanark, Mr Mason said: “I urge everyone in Glasgow East, young and old, to go to your polling station today, cast your vote for the SNP and send a strong message to Gordon Brown that it’s time for a fair share for the East End. Glasgow East deserves a real local MP to make your voice heard in Westminster. It’s a beautiful day, there is a feel-good factor in the air and people across this constituency will be using today as their opportunity to send a message to Gordon Brown. It has been a privilege to campaign across the Glasgow East constituency and it will be an honour to be chosen to serve as the MP for Glasgow East, to represent the many people I have met on the doorsteps, in the shopping centres and at community organisations across the constituency. Send a message to Gordon Brown, vote SNP today.”

Margaret Curran, Labour’s candidate, had this to say: “Over the last few weeks I have talked to thousands of people about their priorities for the future of this area. I believe I have run a positive campaign that has chimed with the real concerns of East Enders, today however every voter faces a clear choice between a fighter and a message boy for Alex Salmond. Whatever their choice, I have one simple message for each and every person in the East End and that is to get down to the polling station and use your vote today.”

OK, so here are the stats: The current Labour majority stands at 13,507 on a turnout of 30,900 in the last general election. That gives Labour 61 per cent of the vote to the Scottish National party’s (SNP) 17 per cent. But what the nationalists have is momentum, and, well, the negative momentum of Labour. Everyone wants to give Gordon Brown a kicking right now, especially since the government – in their infinite wisdom – decided to unveil their reforms to unemployment and incapacity benefit right before today’s vote. Not a terribly clever thing to do in a constituency where 10,000 people are on unemployment benefit alone. We would have berated them for Machiavellian scheming if they’d postponed it for the sake of a by-election, of course, but one of the best things about being a journalist is having your cake and eating it. That’s the kind of thing we say to each other while looking ahead to 16 uninterrupted hours of local by-election coverage.

Despite everything, most analysts are expecting a Labour win today, but by a perilously thin margin. Anything under 5,000 and expect nasty headlines for Labour tomorrow. If they actually lose the seat things get really serious. Leadership speculation will run rampant, the newspapers will explode with barely concealed glee and Labour will be wracked with self-doubt. The chances of an actual leadership bid are small though. Senior party figures know it will do their 2010 election prospects no good to have installed two unelected prime minister in a row and anyway, most of the politicians and political journalists are going on holiday, so there’s very few people around to kick up a fuss.

Our man in the SNP sounds very sunny, very optimistic. Apparently two planes left crossed contrails above Glasgow earlier today, making it look like the St Andrew’s flag had appeared in the sky behind John Mason’s head as he was speaking. This, we’re told, is a very good omen. “I’m walking along the street, about to go knocking on doors,” he says. “We’ve been very well received on the doorstep – the people are looking to find change. The idea of the SNP government opposed to the Labour government has given us a good edge, it’s given people hope that things can be better. We’ve been working non-stop for the last three weeks. I stopped about 9.30 last night, got a few hours sleep and up again at six this morning. I reckon we’ll go right through till after the count. There may be a celebration tonight.”

Labour is being credited with running a professional campaign though, flooding the constituency with volunteers and making full use of Ms Curran’s undoubted capacity for political campaigning. Volunteers got up bright and early this morning, a spokesman tells us, and were delivering leaflets by five in the morning. Over 400 Labour volunteers are in Glasgow East today and they just started knocking on doors. It’s always best to be cautious about timing – waking someone up is a bad way of convincing them to vote for you. Ms Curran has been out talking to voters this morning, but she just started a whistle-stop tour of ‘human traffic’ areas – shopping centres, train stations, that sort of thing – and then it’ll be back to knocking on doors a little later.

Glasgow East is traditionally a place of low turn-outs. In 2005 it was just 48 per cent compared to a 61 per cent national average. But today may be different. The sun is out, the constituency has been the centre of national debate for months and voters have a real feeling of being able to inflict change on the political system.

Now’s probably as good a time as any to give you the full list of candidates:
Chris Creighton – Independent
Frances Curran – Scottish Socialists
Margaret Curran – Labour
Eileen Duke – Scottish Green
Hamish Howett – Freedom-4-Choice
Tricia McLeish – Solidarity
John Mason – Scottish National party
Davena Rankin – Conservative
Ian Robertson – Liberal Democrat

No one bothered talking about the other parties during this election, mostly because everyone started salivating with excitement the second they realised the SNP might actually steal it. But there are, in fact, other parties out there – or so we’re told. After a few phone calls trying to get hold of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat teams we can officially tell you they may not exist. No responses, no phone calls back, and a slightly bemused attitude all round from those on the receiving end of our enquiries. But we will get hold of them – mark our words – and bring their words of wisdom here for your appreciation.

Things always get a little weird on the day of the vote. Suddenly the rabid enthusiasm of candidates and their campaign spokespeople turn into a sort of cheery fatalism. Everyone downplays their chances at this stage – the candidates, the campaign team and eventually, through a sort of social osmosis, the media. Well, things are going that way right now. Insiders are saying late canvassing results for Labour looked bad last night with the predicted margin of victory looking like it’s in the hundreds. David Cairns, the Scottish office minister running Labour’s campaign, says: “It is going to be tight. It is too close to call.”

Calum Cashley, the SNP’s candidate for the Westminster seat of Edinburgh North and Leith, is upbeat about the situation. “Everyone’s here in high spirits,” he said. With the first knockup completed there’s still a long way to go until polls close at 10:00, but it’s all positive in the SNP camp. “I’m very optimistic about this one. I think if things continue the way they are we’ll come away with an MP,” Mr Cashley says. “Some people are saying it’s on a knife-edge, but people like myself are predicting a 1,000 majority.”

Contact with the Lib Dems. A couple of interesting points here. Firstly, they think the battle for third and fourth place is as tight as that for first and second, with the Tories and them battling it out this afternoon on doorsteps. The Liberals are currently at third place in the Westminster vote (fourth on the Scottish vote). Secondly, it looks like Lib Dem insiders think Labour will take it tonight – but only just. Things looked very different a week ago, I’m told, but right now it looks like Labour are going to slip through. “If the nationalists take it it’ll be because Labour lost it, not because they won it,” he says.

Whatever anyone else might say about the campaign, it’s certainly had a good effect on the morale of Glasgow East’s constituents. Being in the glare of national publicity has had a strange effect on them. “They’re a bit cheesed off at being painted as backward,” Calum Cashley tells us. Is this one of the ‘poorest constituencies in the country’? Certainly not – “although there’s a lot of poverty here there’s decent people right across the constituency”. But are they decent enough to vote SNP?

What fantastic weather we’ve had in Glasgow East. A glorious day across the city – and of course that will be having its own effect. Turnout may will be driven higher than the somewhat disappointing 48 per cent seen in the 2005 election. Of course all parties will be benefiting from the good weather, but it may have driven some less experienced campaigners into complacency. Woe betide those who assume their vote is already out and decide to slack off down the pub. Not much chance of that happening here, of course, as all involved are working the front doors hard.

And who is this, coming in from the cold after their agonising wilderness years? Why, it’s the Scottish Conservative party. The Tories haven’t had the best of times north of the border recently but, if the mood of spokesman Ramsay Jones is anything to go by, that’s all about to change. “We’ve campaigned with a smile, we’ve campaigned on local issues – we’ve proved we’re in the mainstream of politics in every seat in Scotland,” he says. Will it be enough to pip the Lib Dems into third place? The race for a podium finish looks like being as close as the SNP-Labour battle itself.

And that is it, ladies and gentlemen. The polls are closed. The die is cast. Hundreds of exhausted activists can finally stagger off to the nearest bar – before returning, finally, to the campaign HQ for a few hours’ nervous wait. It looks like Labour are going to scrape this one – but we can’t be certain and the majority looks like being slashed for sure.

The Tories continue their upbeat message. They are in the unique position, Ramsay Jones explains, of being out of government while being able to show the difference they are making. Extra police by 2011, a new national drug strategy for Scotland and accelerated cuts for business rates in Scotland, he says, have all seen the light of day thanks to the Scottish Conservatives. Crime is bothering Glasgow East constituents, that’s for sure. “We can genuinely say on the crime front, we are delivering.” Whether the Tories will break through the seven per cent mark this time round remains to be seen, however.

The SNP camp, meanwhile, is feeling pretty good about things right now. Activists have gathered for their after-work party, “exhausted” in most cases after three weeks’ hard work. The ‘ten-to-ten’ test, when polling stations are just about to close and the final rush is underway, appears to have gone their way. Labour, apparently, were “knocking every door with a light on – they obviously didn’t know where their vote is”. The SNP, by contrast, were conducting an organised campaign and so it’s no surprise, Calum Cashley tells us, “there’s a good feeling here”.

Sources are telling us the result is expected around 01:00 BST. Looks like I’m in line to win that bet.

The official turnout figure is in – and it’s surprisingly low, at a meagre 42.25 per cent. That’s substantially down on the 48 per cent figure seen in 2005 and comes despite an excellent day weather-wise for voting. It suggests that the result will depend even more on who managed to get their vote out most effectively.

SNP candidate John Mason has turned up at the count. His boxing champ impression for the cameras is truly cringeworthy, but at least he’s getting into the spirit of things. Rumours are running around that the SNP have beaten Labour – in which case the partying has only just begun.

People are becoming increasingly tense and, well, difficult as the results get closer. Trying to get a quote from Labour is like getting blood from a stone (there’s probably something meaningful in that) and the Lib Dems are no longer picking up their phone. Rumours of an SNP victory are rapidly building into fully-fledged assumptions. It’s past one o’clock, but we’re still expecting an announcement any time now. If you’ve followed by-elections before you’ll already know result times get pushed back further and further as each second passes.

Along with the SNP/Labour rumours it’s becoming increasingly likely the Lib Dems have fallen to fourth place. Everyone in the hall is sitting down now and we should be in for the announcement any second. Whatever you do don’t quote me on that.

Someone’s got up to speak, meaning all candidates are about say whether they accept the legitimacy of the result and the returning officer should announce the result in a couple of minutes. It’s been a long night and emotions in the hall are running high. This is where we find out if those SNP rumours turn out to be true.

Something very bad has happened. It looks like there’s going to be a recount. I told you not to quote me. Conversations among the candidates’ teams have become very animated. Just how bad is this? Well, our bedtime just faded into the horizon. It’s still not clear who is calling for the recount, if indeed it actually exists. All you can hear in the hall is the word ‘recount’, with a bunch of other words around it. Rumours are that the result looked like an SNP win of just a couple of hundred votes.

OK so here’s the latest. It appears the SNP victory consists of less votes than those going to Francis Curran – the Scottish Socialists candidate with the same surname as the Labour candidate. Her name appears just above Margaret Curran’s and Labour seem to think enough people made a mistake here. Of course it is just about possible all those people voted for Francis Curran because they liked her, but that theory doesn’t seem to be on Labour’s radar right now.

Contradictory ideas are floating around as to whether it’s a partial or full recount. Everyone’s watching the people doing the counting like anthropologists watching monkeys during a particularly vital experiment. On the basis that no one has announced a full recount, it’s much more likely to be a checking of certain bundles. Whatever the extent of the recount there’s very little chance of the result coming in before 03:00 BST. The one thing we do know is this: Labour called the recount, and barring something terribly odd going on in their brains that means they lost the first count by a very small margin.

It’s confirmed. This is a full recount. Every bundle is being checked. But you can scrap our previous 03:00 prediction. Apparently, the announcement will come within the next ten minutes. We don’t believe that for a second, but it bodes well for a result in the next half hour.

The candidates are being called up to the stage. The returning officer is gathering them together by the side of the stage. It looks like we’re finally about to get a result.

Labour have officially lost Glasgow East. The Tories have pushed the Lib Dems into fourth place. Here are the final results:
SNP – 11,277
Labour – 10,912
Conservatives – 1,639
Liberal Democrats – 915