An independence protest taking place in Glasgow. Credit: Ellie Smith

A beginners’ guide to Glasgow’s politics

By Corinne Allott

What role will younger generations play in shaping the city’s political future?

With Scotland enduring some of the most turbulent and pivotal events in its political timeline over recent months, change may just be in the pipeline for Glasgow. And with just under a quarter (23.8%) of the city’s population aged 16 to 29, its newest voters may change its politics. 

The city, like  each region in Scotland, is governed by three separate factions.

Glasgow City Council forms the local government, whilst the Scottish Government, Holyrood, governs on devolved matters, such as health and education. Glasgow is home to former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and current First Minister Humza Yousef. The Westminster Government controls reserved matters, such as defence, and within its Parliament are  seven Glasgow constituencies.  These are represented entirely by the Scottish National Party (SNP), taking over from the North East of Scotland as the strongest supporting area for the party in recent years.

Whilst Glasgow is a city that remains steadfast in its left-leaning political loyalties, its voting behaviour, current crises, and demographic can each shed light on the ways in which Glasgow is changing. Referred to as an industrial city for over a century, labour movements and trade unions have been critical to the operation of Glasgow. Rent strikes in the early 1900s and trade union rallies following the First World War demonstrate its roots in social mobilisation for change. This is no different today. Voting ‘Yes’ in both the 1997 Scottish Devolution Referendum, and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, with 83.6% and 53.5% respectively, Glasgow is one of the strongest of Scotland’s regions in favour of independence.

Acknowledging Glasgow’s history of embracing new beginnings, and its dedication to bringing about Scottish independence, is pivotal to recognising that the SNP must succeed in meeting the demands of new voters and proving themselves to be the party that addresses the growing struggles of the city’s residents. If not, change could be at their expense rather than in their favour.

With Glasgow not only having a large proportion of young residents, but also just over half the number of older residents as Edinburgh, such demands are different to what they were a few decades ago. New matters are pushed to the forefront of politicians’ minds, matters that adhere to the needs and demands of the younger generation.

Not least, there is the imminent topic of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, proposed and passed by Sturgeon’s Holyrood parliament, but for now blocked by the UK government. The Bill reduces the age a person can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate from 18 to 16, and removes the requirement of a medical diagnosis and proof of having lived in their acquired gender for two years. It is a Bill that would greatly increase the life chances, livelihood and safety of young transgender people in Scotland, and it therefore has crucial influence over young voters. Yousef shows overall support for the Bill, making an initial pledge to fight the UK courts over the decision, but his stance on trans rights generally remains unclear. The way Yousef acts on this could make a significant difference to how almost a quarter of Glasgow’s population feel towards him, and whether or not he can retain the staunch support that Sturgeon had.

There are also circumstantial factors facing each of the three governing bodies of Glasgow which will impact the voting behaviour of the city’s newest electoral generation. With growing concerns over cost of living, and a housing crisis that has long been swept under the rug, responses by the council and each parliament might just determine whether or not loyalties will last. Glasgow has one of the highest rates of social inequality and unemployment in the country, meaning that whilst the whole of the UK is suffering, this city is vulnerable to further unrest. Alongside this, the youngest voters, those who were unable to vote in the 2019 election, tend to be renters who are facing soaring  bills and ruthless landlords. This demographic are acutely aware of how the council are responding to their demands, putting those in power under pressure to act accordingly. Once again, the young people of Glasgow are the ones to watch, and with Labour pledging to target under 35 year olds in their aims for new housing, the SNP must make its own promises, and stick to them, to retain some of their core voters.

It is important to note that whilst the new generation of voters are facing different issues to those in recent decades, the SNP are still holding strong in Glasgow, and do not seem to be going anywhere any time soon. But with growing pressure from other parties – including the growing influence of Anas Sarwar’s Labour Party – and a population in need of immediate governmental action, the SNP must prove its ability to meet these changing demands in order to retain its grip on the city.


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