Glasgow, United Kingdom – SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s queen of selfies. Everywhere she goes, she is met by crowds of admirers demanding photographs.
On Friday evening, more than 320 people packed into the function hall at Kabana, an Indian restaurant on Glasgow’s south side, to hear her speak.
The event was organised by Scots Asians for Independence and Sturgeon was introduced by 22-year-old Glasgow University law student Anum Qaiser. Her red tartan sari was a perfect metaphor for the fusion of cultures represented in the room.
“Many of us are in awe of our first minister,” she said. “She has inspired young and old across all these islands, not just in Scotland.”
It might sound like political spin, but polls show that Sturgeon is by far the most popular politician in the country.
Scotland has about 75,000 Muslims. Most came from Pakistan in the 1960s and ’70s and the community punches well above its weight politically and economically.
Scots Asians traditionally voted for the left-of-centre Labour Party, which was seen as the champion of the underdog. In 1997, Glasgow elected Mohammad Sarwar as the first Muslim MP in the whole of Britain.
Now, like the rest of Scotland, they appear to be swinging to the SNP.
A strong leader
Nighat Hanif, who was one of the first to arrive at the rally, admires Sturgeon as a strong female leader. “I was saying to my husband she is another Iron Lady just like Margaret Thatcher.”
She added, “Margaret Thatcher is number one, so Nicola is number two.”
This was meant as a compliment, but the SNP leader might have some reservations about being compared to one of the Conservative Party’s greatest heroines. Her pitch is firmly to the left.
Speaking in front of a large Scottish flag, Sturgeon said: “Labour has lost its roots and lost its values. The SNP will vote to get the Tories out and keep the Tories out, but do you know what, once we’ve done that, if the numbers allow us to do it, we will also use our influence to make sure the Tories are replaced with something better.”
She got her biggest cheer of the night when she asserted that people would be using their votes to say loudly and clearly that they did not want to spend 100 billion pounds ($150bn) on weapons of mass destruction.
Her comments show how Scotland’s political culture has diverged from that of the rest of the UK. The Conservatives only matter as target practise.
In Glasgow, at least, the election is a contest between two parties that both want to be seen as the authentic voice of the left.
Switching to SNP
What we want are enough MPs down there to say 'this is what we think, this is what we feel and this is what affects Scotland'.
Rosa Zambonini, a single mother who runs her own business, is a former Labour member who voted “Yes” in the independence referendum and recently joined the SNP.
“I think the SNP are almost a modern version of what Labour started out being,” she said.
“What we want are enough MPs down there to say ‘this is what we think, this is what we feel, and this is what affects Scotland’,” she added.
Her friend Amina Iqbal, a teacher, said she joined the SNP last year because of its achievements in government, abolishing prescription charges and giving free meals to children in their first three years at school.
At the end of the evening she was pushed through the crowd by her uncle to get a selfie with Sturgeon.
Polls show the SNP is on the brink of an extraordinary victory. The Nationalists have never won a seat in Glasgow in a UK general election. In fact, nobody has beaten Labour here since 1983.
Soryia Siddique is a Labour councillor and one of the party’s rising stars.
She admitted it is a tough election, but said the party is still fighting for every vote. Siddique rejected the idea that Labour has lost its values.
“Labour has some really good policies, 1,000 more nurses in Scotland funded by a UK-wide mansion tax on properties worth over 2 million pounds [$3m]. That is redistribution of wealth and prosperity, that is socialism, a value of the Labour Party,” she said.
A Labour government would also guarantee every young person a job or an apprenticeship funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses, she added.
The problem, according to analysts, is that many voters are no longer willing to listen. The party’s brand was tarnished by its decision to campaign alongside the Conservatives for a “No” vote in last year’s referendum.
“It’s going to be ‘Labour-geddon’,” said one senior political operative on condition of anonymity. “People think Nicola Sturgeon is wonderful and they want to give Labour a kicking.”
Khizar Malik, who runs the Kabana restaurant, is one of the few people who didn’t want to express an opinion. He said the Labour Party had used his hall for another function the previous week, so he had to remain politically neutral.
All sides agreed, however, that his lamb krahi and seekh kebab were delicious.
Follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter: @apmcfadyen