Glasgow University student set to unseat shadow foreign secretary

Ashcroft poll suggests that Mhairi Black will oust Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South following a predicted swing of 25% from Labour to SNP


Claire Thomson

Glasgow University student Mhairi Black is on course to become the youngest ever MP. The SNP candidate for Paisley and Renfrewshire South could unseat Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander on 7th of May, polling evidence suggests.

A recent poll by Lord Ashcroft shows that the SNP is on course to win 48% of the vote in the constituency, which Douglas Alexander has held since 1997, winning 59.6% of the vote in 2010.

The formerly “ultra safe” Labour seat is far less secure in this election, with the 20 year old Paisley-born student hot on the heels of Alexander. If Black is victorious in May, Paisley and Renfrewshire South will epitomise Scotland’s political shift from Labour to the SNP.

Alexander, 27 years Black’s senior, has been a key election strategist for Labour and a high profile minister for much of his political life. A major player in the Blair and Brown cabinets, the Labour incumbent is a political heavyweight. If Labour’s chief general election strategist were to lose his seat to an unknown undergraduate, it would be hugely embarrassing for the party. SNP membership numbers continue to soar, and the polls predict the party is set to take scores of seats from Labour in May.

Black has, however, courted controversy in the early stages of the election campaign. The Daily Record reported that footage of the candidate had surfaced on YouTube, appearing to show Black publicly declaring her desire to “put the nut in” Labour councillors. The comments were made on 12 of October at a Hope Over Fear rally in Glasgow’s George Square. The rally was organised by Solidarity Scotland co-convenor and ex-MSP Tommy Sheridan.

Speaking to The Guardian earlier this month, Black said that she regretted her “unfortunate turn of phrase.” These comments sparked calls for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to publicly condemn Black’s comments, which she refused to do. On the 12th April, Sturgeon was appearing in selfies and pounding pavements in Paisley with the student.

Further controversy arose following a series of tweets from Black’s Twitter account. A social media faux pas of many a teenager, Black seemingly boasted about her drunken escapades. One tweet told of Black waking up next to a can of Tennent’s lager, a pizza, and more cash than the then teenager had ventured out with. For a teenage Black, this was “a success.” Even after being selected as the party’s candidate in Paisley and Renfrewshire South, the SNP did not ask Black to delete the tweets.

Supporters of Black have suggested that the tweets may have helped to support her campaign, bolstering her image as a “grassroots” candidate with very little media training or political experience. Alexander is seen by many to be an experienced career politician, who understands the importance of a good public image.

A Partick Thistle season ticket holder, Black declared her hatred of Celtic Football Club, and supporters of the club, on Twitter in 2013. The tweets in question included what many consider to be offensive language. and referred to Celtic as “a joke”, leading many to voice concerns about Black’s suitability to represent a constituency in Glasgow’s central belt, an area plagued by sectarianism and a fierce rivalry between Celtic and Rangers.

Labour councillor Jacqueline Murray was among those who raised concerns. The Daily Record quotes Murray as questioning Black’s “suitability for public office”, urging Nicola Sturgeon to deselect the student.

Although being no stranger to controversy, Black, who studies politics at Glasgow University, remains on course to win the seat. YouGov’s Election Centre predicts that the constituency to be “likely SNP” after 7 May. According to YouGov’s Nowcast, the SNP is on course to win between 41.8% and 53% of the vote. For their part, Labour are predicted to garner between 33.5% and 44.4% of the votes in the constituency, previously considered to be one of Labour’s safest seats in Scotland.

According to the website of  Renfrewshire Council, Paisley and Renfrewshire South (excluding Renfrewshire North and West, which also fall within the council district), voted “No” to independence by a margin of 2.4% (1855 votes).


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