ANAS SARWAR is fielding my demand that he create a Cabinet Secretary for Glasgow if he becomes First Minister.

“Glasgow is Scotland’s most important city,” I tell him, “yet it’s grossly under-represented in government. Edinburgh’s got a boutique city centre that’s been hollowed out by gap-year, bucket-list tourism. They’d rather we looked away from places like Wester Hailes and Pilton. ”

He shifts a little nervously and then seems to think “what the hell” and goes for it. “I think the situation is actually worse than that,” he says. “There’s currently no leadership at Glasgow City Council. We have a leader who is completely out of touch and thinks she’s there to be the SNP’s voice in Glasgow, rather than be a champion for the city.

“You and I are brother weegies, (which we are). There’s no greater city in the world than Glasgow, but it’s being left behind. Look, I’m also a big supporter of the Edinburgh Festival; the tourism and the investment it attracts.”

“Aye, but Glasgow is a 24/7 festival city, 12 months a year,” say I.

“Agreed, but if you compare what’s happening in Edinburgh with Glasgow it’s night and day. Glasgow Airport is neglected; our transport infrastructure is crumbling; our city centre is unsupported; our hospitality sector is being decimated; there is no economic strategy.”

“Will you make this an imperative if you become First Minister,” I ask.

“It absolutely has to be an imperative.”

“So how do you do it?”

“You get a proper growth plan in place and create a real economic hub in the west of Scotland, similar to what’s happening in Merseyside and Manchester.

"This must be backed up by a proper growth plan around the industries of the future which will make Glasgow recognised nationally and internationally.

“We need investment in our airport, because we need more direct flights into Glasgow if it’s to be a great destination again. And then there must be proper connectivity into Glasgow and throughout the west of Scotland.

“Glasgow has to be key in driving the wider Scottish economy and that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve had enough of this SNP neglect and taking the people of Glasgow for granted.”

“So, can we get a Minister for Glasgow,” I ask again.

“You know what,” he says, “In 2026, we’ll have a First Minister for Glasgow.”

“I’ll hold you to it,” I warn him.

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MY one and only attempt at party political canvassing didn’t end well. At 16, as a freshly-minted member of the Labour Party I was taken to a new private housing estate by my local Labour councillor. We were campaigning for Dennis Canavan in his old West Stirlingshire constituency and asking its residents to share their voting intentions with us.

Many were the first in their families ever to have owned their own homes. As such, they were the embodiment of the new Socialism: get educated; get a profession; get your own house.

Some believed though, that having ownership of their own wee pile – no matter how modest - obliged them to become Tories. When I was rather brusquely told this by one doorstep challenge (whom I knew to be a teacher from a solid Labour family background) I committed the cardinal sin of canvassing by arguing the point with him.

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I was trying to remind him that if it wasn’t for Labour he wouldn’t be living in his own house and that if the Tories had had their way he’d still be living in a damp high-rise.

A week later, I was summoned to see the local branch secretary. A complaint had been made about my ‘belligerent’ doorstep attitude. This voter, not

unreasonably, hadn’t much liked being patronised by a “smartarse schoolboy Marxist”.

When I relate this tale to Jackie Baillie she laughs, but nervously. She’s agreed to my request to accompany her as she canvassed on the doorsteps of a similar type of housing estate in High Blantyre. Having previously worked for Strathkelvin and East Dunbartonshire councils, she knew all those towering local Labour pillars of my youth.

I’ve always liked Ms Baillie. She’s one of that handful of Scottish politicians who commands respect and no little admiration across all parties. I’m not the only one who thinks that if she’d been leader rather than the likes of Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale, the collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland wouldn’t have been quite so calamitous.

The MSP for Dumbarton is one of Scotland’s longest-serving politicians, having been a fixture at Holyrood since its inception in 1999. As deputy leader of the party she is Anas Sarwar’s eyes and ears. According to party insiders, she administers discipline in what some have described as the bull-whip end of no-nonsense. “Jackie’s great, but you mess with her at your peril,” I’d been told.

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Today though, she’s in her element. “I don’t know of any politician who doesn’t like meeting the voters on their doorsteps,” she tells me. “This is really what it’s all about. Hearing directly from the people on behalf of whom we’re all supposed to be making policy.”

A teenage lad opens the door and Miss Baillie introduces herself. She’s careful, at first, to restrict herself to a polite request. “Can I ask you if you’ve made up your mind how you’ll be voting at the by-election?” She’ll only enter into a discussion if the resident initiates it.

The young lad seems knowledgeable about politics and is leaning towards Labour. He says he’s seeking to persuade his SNP-voting dad to do likewise. Dad soon appears and it becomes clear that his son is winning the day. “It’s time for a change,” says dad. “The SNP have become weak and chaotic and they’ve not advanced the cause of independence one bit. Maybe it’s now time to get back to the bread and butter stuff.”

This will become a signature doorstep theme here. It’s a sense that the SNP have had their time and done little with it. It’s also clear that, by instinct and practice, these were old Labour voters who, like many others across west

READ MORE: Jackie Baillie says SNP were playing politics with GRR Bill

central Scotland, had shifted to the SNP on the Yes tide that swept Scotland in places like this between 2011 and 2015.

At another house, a woman tells Ms Baillie that the SNP are now exhibiting the same signs of arrogance and detachment from everyday issues that had led to the mass migration from Labour. “They’ve lost the plot,” is how she puts it. Another cites the perceived influence of the Scottish Greens. “None of us voted for them.”

Across the road, Monica Lennon, MSP for Central Scotland and a native of this area, asks me to join her. She meets a couple who are still wrestling with their political consciences. He’s moving towards Labour; she’s still clinging to what remains of her recent loyalty to the SNP. “Let’s just say I’m open to persuasion,” she says.

Back at party HQ, a modern office hub, the place is hoaching with young Labour activists. A human shuttle service is in operation, bringing fresh supplies of artisan coffees in paper cups from the emporium down the road. There are perhaps 20 of them, including some who’ve been sent up from London. They’re throwing the kitchen sink at this by-election, or the knives and forks at least.

In Scotland though, Labour has a Keir Starmer problem. The UK leader stands accused of pursuing the path of least resistance into Downing Street, ditching fundamental Labour shibboleths in his desperation to get there: trade union activism; EU Membership; the jobs and communities that come with North Sea oil and gas.

In England, he might get away with his Union Jack fetishism (why have one flag when you can have two); his contrived patriotism and a refusal (yet) to pledge resistance to the two-child benefit cap. But not here.

Anas Sarwar believes this is unfair and hints at Scottish Labour being free to pursue different policy objectives more appropriate to Scotland. “Does Labour under Keir Starmer still embrace Socialism,” I ask him.

“Our broad church is still underpinned by left and left-of-centre politics,” he replies. “It’s still based on our Socialist values and on our principles around social justice, equality and fairness.”

“What about his laissez-faire position on the migrant prison-ships off Dorset,” I ask.

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Keir Starmer 

“He was misrepresented on the barges. He said he wanted no barges; no hotels and no flights to Rwanda. Day one might be difficult but on the principal we don’t want them.

“Some of the criticisms of Keir are unfair. The SNP want to pretend this will be a no-change election. But this is a fundamental-change election. They’re running their entire election strategy on this because they don’t have a good record to stand on. They know that a UK Labour Government is bad for them. For the last 16 years they’ve fed off the Tories being in power.

“Think about the new deal for working people. We’re talking about pay increases; ending the scandal of fire and re-hire; about banning zero-hours contracts. On Day One we want to restore employment rights and immediately embrace sectoral-led collective bargaining. That’s a very progressive Labour agenda and the polar opposite of how bad actors seek to portray Keir as.

“We’ve been clear about smashing the class ceiling and how someone’s background and what their parents did shouldn’t be a limit on their ambitions. I think anyone saying that’s not a Labour and Socialist platform has alternative skin in the game.”

READ MORE: Anas Sarwar - I’m not hostile to anyone who supports independence

A COAL-MINE once stood on this High Blantyre estate. Some of those who now live in these 20-year-old villas are the children and grandchildren of miners. In microcosm, it represents what Labour were always supposed to be about: improving the lives of working-class families by providing them with opportunity.

In Scotland though, in the devolved era, Labour’s grandees grew apart from them and began to patronise them and duly paid the price. The SNP now stand accused of the same failings. For the first time in a political generation, the Scottish Labour leadership now believes its time has come.

“We used to be scared of by-elections,” says Anas Sarwar. “Now it’s the SNP’s turn to be scared of them.”