DR Jean Turner has seen most rotten things life has in store for us. You don't survive as a GP for 25 years in Springburn, Glasgow, or cope with being thrown down a close in Possil for the sake of your prescription pad, without getting to grips with the collective sum of human misery.

But can she cope with politics? Here are ailments beyond the reach of science. How to diagnose and then treat a pandemic of insincerity, smarminess, and murderous ambition requires an altogether different skill - one which, sadly, rules out the use of large syringes, strong laxatives, or painful injections in the


Jean Turner is a remarkable candidate in a forgotten by-

election. At 61, this small, grey-haired retired GP is standing as an independent Save Stobhill Hospital candidate for the Scottish Parliament in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency.

With voting today, alongside the general election, the fascinating competition for Sam Galbraith's old seat has been ignored by the wider world.

But Dr Turner is not only patently kind, honest and the sort of caring doc who'd sign you off for two weeks without asking too many questions, she is also not a politician (''I keep forgetting the question at the hustings''), which today may be a huge attribute.

Best of all, she has a saintly cause. Everyone has a sick aunty or heart disease or a pregnant wife, (or, frequently, all three at once), and nobody wants to lose the local hospital, a Victorian pile in Springburn which has been dying an agonising death for 25 years under both Tory and Labour governments. Nearly 43,000 have signed a petition to save it.

Dr Turner's late entry into the election has been a bombshell for the established political parties, heightened by the decision of the Scottish Socialist Party to stand down and invite its followers to vote for her.

The man with most to lose is Mr Galbraith's chosen successor, Brian Fitzpatrick, an advocate who worked for Donald Dewar and who, but for Dr Turner, might have expected to maintain Labour's majority of 12,000.

It is Mr Fitzpatrick's misfortune that his - how can we put this nicely? - silky smooth manner did not impress the 300-odd voters packed into Kirkintilloch town hall last Monday. When, mid-speech, a phone rang in the foyer, the aged wags clutching their crutches up the back - Labour voters to the man but now converts to Dr Turner - shouted: ''Oi. That's Tony. You're off message.'' Even the Tory got off lightly by comparison.

Labour supporters appear to be defecting in droves. Betty Smart, the local charity queen, has changed her affiliations and is raising money for Dr Turner. There's a bingo night in Possil.

Labour is not worried, just terrified. One senior party associate, watching anxiously from the sidelines at the hustings, murmured: ''We don't know what she will do. Feeling is strong here but nobody in Bearsden cares about Stobhill.''

In the blighted hospital's catchment area, though, Dr Turner - pink mac, white hair, admits to voting both Tory and Labour in the past - reigns supreme. Out on the stump, her pavement manner, like her bedside manner, is kindly, authoritative, sincere. This is a woman for whom you would not only take your antibiotics three times a day, you would remember to finish the whole course.

Everyone stops when she approaches them. Senior cops in mufti (''I'm not allowed to have any political affiliations but give me a leaflet''). Pensioners. Young mums. Everyone says they will vote for her. Her conversations frequently become long and intense. It should be confidential, but you edge closer.

''It's my hips, I've been waiting months. And can I tell you about my heart complaint . . . ''

Lex Gaston sighs as the conversations drag on. Former chairman of Stobhill hospital and life-long Labour supporter, he is now Jean's agent and himself waiting to go for a heart by-pass operation. But not at Stobhill.

''What Jean hasn't learned as a politician is that you must not spend too much time on the one person,'' he says.

Lack of political skills are not something Dr Turner worries about.

''It's the Liberace theory. I know I'm not good but you can't say I've not got guts.''

With enough persuasion, because she is a very modest woman, she tells of life in the war zone.

''That time I was attacked in Possil, they were waiting for me on the close. It was a silent push-me, pull-me over the bag. I remember going backwards down the stair on my head, thinking 'How strange, it's a nice sunny day and my mother is sitting in the car outside to keep it safe.'

''I landed and thought my elbow bones had gone through my jacket but I got up and ran after them in my high heels. I don't frighten easily.

''So politicians, people like our little Brian, staring me down across the table at the hustings, trying to tell me he was Donald Dewar's right-hand man, they don't scare me.''

Undoubtedly not. But she sure as hell scares them.