Profile: Glenrothes

With a by-election on the way which could put the full stop to Gordon Brown’s stint as prime minister, all eyes will increasingly focus on the Fife constituency over the coming weeks. But what’s it actually like?

Well, the first thing to note is that Glenrothes is not Glasgow East. Despite their vaguely similar levels of Labour support (13,500 in Glasgow East compared to 10,664 in Glenrothes) Glenrothes is a considerably more comfortable, if unremarkable, area to live.

Sitting about as far away from Edinburgh as it is from Dundee, Glenrothes is one of the Scottish new towns, created just after the second world war to support a massive new coal mine, the Roathes Colliery. When that industry died, hi-tech companies moved in to replace it and about 29 per cent of the town’s population is in lower managerial or professional occupations – a substantially higher proportion than in Scotland in general. Its demographic make-up is about average for Scotland, with more 30-44 year olds than any other age group, although it does have fewer pensioners than the national average.

It’s a pleasant enough little town, with well-groomed parks, shopping centres and some sculptures. All entirely unexceptional really, although if you’ve travelled widely around the region, you’ll know unexceptional is better than grim.

Politically, Glenforth is a Labour stronghold, as is all of this part of Scotland. It’s been this way since anyone can remember. Back when it was called Central Fife, the constituency’s rebel MP, Willie Hamilton, used to make purple speeches savaging the royal family.

He died and was replaced by Henry McLeish, a fairly important figure in the birth of New Labour and later first minister in Scotland until his ignoble exit over expenses. John MacDougall took over from McLeish in 2001. He was re-elected in 2005 but with a poor turnout of just 37 per cent. Of that, he received 52 per cent of the vote.

Then came the Scottish National party (SNP) with 23 per cent, the Liberal Democrats with 13 per cent and the Tories on seven per cent.

It is far less disadvantaged than Glasgow East, but nowhere near rich enough to be tempted by the Tories, as if anywhere in Scotland ever is nowadays. Nevertheless, expect them to hold their vote here like they did in Glasgow East. Their voters don’t have anywhere to go. By-elections in Scotland are now a battle ground of the centre-left, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP tearing bits off each other in a race to the top.

On the most realistic prediction, the SNP will play the same game they have already played – maintaining momentum, relying on their record in government, highlighting the unpopularity of Gordon Brown. It will probably work, and both Labour and the Lib Dem will feel the squeeze.

There is one potential problem though. With all the commentators expecting them to win, the shoe is suddenly on the other foot. All the pressure is on the SNP not to trip up. And Alex Salmond, the party’s leader, has set himself a high mountain to climb. If he fails to overturn Labour’s majority, his political momentum will come to a shuddering halt.

Everything lies in the hands of the people of Glenrothes.