Election 2015

Election 2015: The Labour struggle in Scotland's Dundee West

Tay Road Bridge
Image caption Opened in 1966 the Tay Road Bridge carries the A92 from Newport-on-Tay in Fife into the city of Dundee

The heavily decorated smoke stack from Cox's Jute factory still stands tall overlooking a sad conglomeration of warehouse-sized bingo halls, discount supermarkets and vacant land.

Dundee was once industrial Scotland at its best. At the dawn of the 20th Century, the Jute works employed 5,000 people. Until 1993, Timex watches were still being made in the city. Even Levi jeans were stitched here until 2002.

Dundee West has sent Labour MPs to Westminster for the last 65 years but loyalties are fading; the old political certainties now look distinctly stone-washed.

Opinion polling for Lord Ashcroft suggests a swing to the Scottish National Party of around 27% in the constituency, and voters like Douglas Fisher - a former shop steward in the printing industry - says he parted company with Labour long ago.

"The Labour Party today is distanced from the working man. Their policies are in line with Conservative policies, you could put a tissue paper between the two of them. Labour are losing the traditional values of the working classes," he says.

The SNP candidate Chris Law is a tall man with a ponytail who wears a tweed jacket and waistcoat with jeans. During last year's referendum campaign he toured the country with an old blue-painted fire engine emblazoned with the slogan "Spirit of Independence".

Image caption For ten years Chris Law ran his own business as a financial adviser

"I've met Labour voters who are fizzing with anger over where Labour is today," he says.

"The SNP has become the alternative to austerity which all the other parties are embracing.

"There is a real sense of people wanting change and they want their voices to be heard. We have had 65 years of Labour in Dundee West and no matter how long they have been in power here, that voice has not been heard."

On the streets around the Hub - the SNPs party HQ in the constituency - his message is well received.

Image copyright PA

"Labour and the Conservatives have never worked for Scotland," says Ian Faulkner.

But not everyone is convinced.

"I've always voted Labour," James Shaw tells me.

"There hasn't been a party so far that has tempted me to change my mind."

When I catch up with Labour's candidate Michael Marra, he is knocking on doors in an area of detached homes with carefully tended lawns and where birdsong emanates from trees bedecked with cherry blossom.

"It's going to be tough, there's no doubt about that," he says, before insisting he can still win.

"We are the underdogs in this fight at the moment but it's a big, energised campaign and there are a huge number of people undecided."

'Right tone'

The SNP already controls the local council and the neighbouring Westminster seat, so Mr Marra - a new candidate - sees himself as the "the last man standing".

"We are not struggling to find Labour voters," he says.

He acknowledges that Labour's decision to work with the Conservatives as part of the anti-independence "Better Together" campaign, in the run-up to the referendum, damaged the party.

"People feel Labour didn't get the tone right.

"I can understand, I wasn't comfortable with that and lots of party members weren't comfortable with that position."

Image caption Before becoming a candiate Michael Marra was a former party adviser, charity worker and political analyst

But he says maintaining "solidarity" across the UK was the right thing to do.

"We now need to show with a Labour government that arrangement can work for the people of Scotland."

The SNP could win a majority of Scotland's 59 Westminster seats if polls can be believed, and Labour is struggling.

Douglas Alexander - Labour's shadow foreign secretary - is under massive pressure in his Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat, where the SNP has opened up an 11-point lead, according to Lord Ashcroft's latest poll. In Glasgow South West - another Labour heartland - the SNP lead has widened from three to 21 points.

'Voice of Scotland'

The referendum campaign engaged the nation in Scottish politics as never before, and at times it was a boisterous debate. In the end, a much quieter majority voted to stay within the UK.

But the SNP was jubilant when - hours after securing a No vote in the referendum - Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would push for English votes for English laws as an answer to the so-called West Lothian Question, whereby politicians in Scotland can vote in Westminster on matters that - as a result of devolution - don't apply in their own constituencies.

Speaking to the cameras in Downing Street on the morning of 19 September, Mr Cameron said: "We have heard the voice of Scotland, now the millions of voices of England must also be heard."

His statement has entered SNP folklore surrounding the referendum. They say it extended the sense of grievance to some of those who had voted for the union just hours before. Since then, SNP membership has soared to more than 100,000, making it the UK's third largest party.

The referendum required a simple majority of the Scottish popular vote, but in the Westminster election it is winning seats that matters, and the nationalists are now well placed to take many.

But some of Labour's woes pre-date the referendum.

Outside a weather-beaten social club with no visible windows, I ask a group of people what went wrong.

"I was always a Labour man and I was brought up a socialist," says Ian Hendry.

He traces his disillusionment back to Tony Blair, the New Labour project and what he calls "Soft Labour".

"I am SNP but for the sole purpose of getting independence, once we achieve that we could maybe go back to Labour," he says, imagining his country in the future.

James Craig says he was Labour all his life but started to drift five years ago due to what he calls "false promises".

"I wouldn't vote for Labour again, because they turned it into New Labour. If they go back to old Labour, yeah, I would vote for them again.

"New Labour have forgotten their roots. Labour were for the working person and they are not for the working person now."

Image caption May Innes says Labour have done "nothing" while in power

May Innes, 83, tells me her mum and dad voted Labour and she did the same. But this time she is not sure, and may vote SNP.

"I don't like Labour and Ed Miliband," she says.

"All that time they were in (power) and what did they do? Nothing."

Another man joins the conversation. "Scotland has always been Labour 'cause we're working class but them days have gone now. They really couldn't give a damn about Scotland," he says, adding that Labour's votes have been taken for granted for years.

On a playing field, Ruth and Peter are kicking around a football with their tiny grandson. The nationalist rhetoric leaves them cold.

"I'm voting Labour" says Ruth. The SNP was never an option for them.

"I don't believe in independence either," says Peter.

Labour is putting its hopes in Dundee West on the likes of Ruth and Peter and the many professed undecided voters their canvassers encounter on the doorstep in the hope that, as with the referendum last September, there may be a host of quiet, undeclared supporters prepared to back Labour after all. Just not prepared to say so.

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