November 13, 2009 2:00 am
Labour last night claimed victory in the Glasgow North East by-election in a result that will be a boost to Gordon Brown.
The by-election resulted from the resignation of Michael Martin, the former Commons speaker, who stepped down at the height of the summer row over MPs' expenses.
The result will be a relief to the prime minister, although the Scottish National party managed to reduce sharply Labour's previous majority of 10,134 votes. Labour had been nervous about defending what is one of Scotland's most deprived constituencies, not least because the SNP last year won a famous victory in the adjoining constituency of Glasgow East, overturning a majority of 13,507 in what had been one of Labour's safest seats.
Willie Bain, the Labour candidate, fought a strong campaign that stressed his local roots.
The result confirms that last autumn's financial meltdown - which saw the near collapse of the two largest Edinburgh-based banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS - has checked the momentum of the SNP, which had appeared to be on a roll after ousting Labour from power at Holyrood in 2007.
This is the second time within a year that Labour has held off an SNP by-election challenge.
In November Labour benefited from the prime minister's decisive intervention in the banking crisis and comfortably held on to Glenrothes, the seat adjoining Mr Brown's constituency.
Glasgow North East was always a difficult prospect for the SNP, which at the general election took only 18 per cent of the votes, even though the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives followed Westminster convention and did not stand against the speaker.
There was local sympathy for Mr Martin - who has since become Lord Martin of Springburn - with some voters expressing resentment over the way he was mocked for his Glaswegian accent and working class origins.
However, there was also disgust expressed with all politicians, and turnout slumped to about 33 per cent - down from 46 per cent in 2005 - the lowest recorded in a Scottish by-election.
This sense of disgruntlement with conventional politics was also predicted to have helped the British National party to take third place - the first time the party has saved its deposit in a Scottish by-election.
The result is a setback for Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, who adopted a low profile during the campaign.
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