As soon as we’d entered the community garden I spotted the gnome lurking in the shrubbery, affecting innocence. And if I’d spotted it, then surely Anas Sarwar had too. The two photographers certainly had. They were crouching down at my right as Labour’s Scottish leader rattled off his well-thumbed New Deal for Working People, the primer for every candidate in this election and which every one of them must, by now, be reciting in their sleep.

It was clear what the two lensmen were about: capturing an image of an unsuspecting Mr Sarwar with a bearded goblin for company. Wattie Cheung, doyen of political snappers, flashes me a vulpine grin and puts his finger to his lips. It wasn’t my job though, to tell Mr Sarwar that we were being photo-bombed by a veteran, two-foot sprite of rustic appearance.

It’s doubtful though, that the Labour leader would have broken stride. He’s on something of a roll right now with three polls currently showing his party building up a consistent lead over the SNP barely a week before the election.

This morning, he’s meeting community volunteers and staff at Muirfield Community hub, tucked away behind a retail estate near Cumbernauld’s compellingly unlovely town centre.

Anas Sarwar is unfazed by the gnomeAnas Sarwar is unfazed by the gnome (Image: free)

“Retail estate,” is being a bit generous. The road into this place is flanked by a cardiac boulevard of fast-food emporiums. Every continent is represented by all types of fish and fowl: KFC, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Marini’s Fish and Chips and an outlet called Red Chillies offering curries, kebabs and pizzas. See Cumbernauld. See ethnic diversity …

Mr Sarwar is here to support Katrina Murray, Labour’s candidate in Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch. Everyone in west central Scotland knows someone in Cumbernauld or has family here and we’ve all been given our own guided tours of that Town Centre, a true West of Scotland wonder: reviled by architects and aesthetes, but loved by the people that matter.

You never forget your first tour of this concrete behemoth, where every shop and brand you’d ever imagined were crammed into three canopied floors. And all of them under the gaze of the St Enoch Clock with the face that launched a thousand romances.

This town which had hosted a large proportion of Glasgow’s 1950s and 1960s overspill - including three branches of my wider family - had once been solid Labour territory. And then, like many other urban communities in west central Scotland, it cast them out and condemned the party to wander for a decade or so in the Scottish political wilderness.

Cumbernauld was the fulcrum of modern Socialism. Thousands of working-class people were the first in generations of their families to dwell in smart, comfortable, spacious homes on handsome streets. These formed the pocket kingdoms of Abronhill, Kildrum, Seafar, Carbrain and Condorrat: all of them surrounded by the woods and parkland of the old village. There was a tidy golf course.

These were the precursors of the 15-minute neighbourhoods, each with their own rows of shops and a clutch of taverns that formed the gateways to my adulthood: the Mallard, the Kestrel; the Kingfisher, the Jack Snipe. And all of them connected to that big mothership in the town centre by underpasses. Kenny Dalglish once played for Cumbernauld United.

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Over two decades, a host of household retail, manufacturing and technology brands moved in, beguiled by a location that serviced both Glasgow and Edinburgh. Until the middle of the 1990s the old Cumbernauld Development Corporation and the Tax Office provided skilled employment, traineeships and wages for a generation whose parents could only have dreamt of such. It’s only by reclaiming places such as this that Labour’s Scottish resurrection can be considered real.

In the town centre last week, social and affordable housing was the primary issue among those with whom I spoke. This was predictable. The tax office and the CDC have both gone and mortgages are harder to come by. Less predictable was another issue. Eileen, a middle-aged women, asked me if I’d heard of the debate around gender and self-ID. “A little,” I’d replied. “I used to be SNP,” she says, “but if Labour want my vote they’ll need to stop this nonsense too.”

I convey her thoughts to Mr Sarwar. He’s just been telling the broadcasters what you’d expect him to about the Tory betting scandal. “It’s the latest example of a political party that thinks it’s all about them and about how they make money themselves rather than improving the lives of people across the country and why we must be rid of this rotten Tory Government which is mired in scandal, mired in sleaze.”

Can he assure the electorate there are no Scottish Labour candidates involved in this, he’s asked. He is “perfectly confident” that all his candidates are “behaving appropriately”. His party managers will now spend a fretful day in WhatsApp hell, hoping to reach midnight without any news of malfeasances involving their own.

I tell him that gender is featuring heavily in this election. It’s already helped bring down two SNP First Ministers and their successor isn’t handling it well either, I tell him.

“Let me really clear,” he says. “I believe in the primacy of the Equality Act. It was a really important piece of legislation passed by the last UK Labour Government. A key part of that is recognising and protecting single-sex spaces based on biological sex. On that there can be no compromise.

“We have made great strides in challenging misogyny and sexism, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ve not gone far enough and there’s still a lot of work to do.

“That’s why me must challenge violence against women and girls and ensure that protecting those hard-fought rights and to ensure we’re enhancing those rights. If there’s a conversation and a debate to be had about how we remove the indignities and challenge transphobia, I think there is a way of doing that whilst protecting those hard fought rights.”

You get the impression that Labour, north and south of The Border, have been wrong-footed by the attention this is getting, but they’ll need to catch up soon. All talk of “protecting single-sex spaces based on biological sex” will be rendered meaningless if unqualified men can successfully apply to be women.

The other issue that repeatedly comes up here and in Kirkintilloch is affordable Housing. If Labour is to make any gains in this election a springboard for winning power at Holyrood in 2026 they need to take ownership of this issue.

“Affordable housing is a key driver of economic growth,” he says. “But lack of housing is also one of the great drivers of poverty and inequality. When you look at the rate of housebuilding in our country it’s not enough. We simply do not have enough homes.

“So, we must pay enough money into the affordable housing budget which the SNP Government has cut. There are also many homes which are not in use and which need to be brought into use. I think this is too often overlooked.

Anas Sarwar with Katrina Murray, Labour’s candidate in Cumbernauld and KirkintillochAnas Sarwar with Katrina Murray, Labour’s candidate in Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch (Image: free)

“Fundamental to everything though, is planning. Our planning system is woefully inadequate in Scotland. Compare my home city of Glasgow with Manchester. The average planning application in Manchester takes around 18 weeks. In Glasgow it’s close to 78 weeks.

If you’re someone looking to make an investment and the choice is to go through a planning process in 18 weeks or to go through one that takes 78 weeks, where are you going to put your money?”

We discuss once more the absurdity of having a Scottish government where the country’s largest and most important city is entirely unrepresented. “We have a parliament that sits in Edinburgh and that sets housing policy based on the needs of Edinburgh. What suits households in Edinburgh aren’t necessarily the right solutions for Glasgow or indeed the Western Isles. Regional economic development in which Housing is a key element, is very important.

“I once told you I wanted to be a First Minister for Glasgow. Right now, for the first time since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, we have a cabinet that does not have a single representative from Glasgow. That is completely and utterly unacceptable. It’s one more example of how this SNP Government has lost touch with reality.”

Let Glasgow Flourish, but just not in Holyrood under the SNP.