East Dunbartonshire or bust: Seeing the decline of Jo Swinson

East Dunbartonshire or bust: Seeing the decline of Jo Swinson
By Orlando Crowcroft
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Reporting from the now former Lib Dem leader's constituency was a gamble, but sadly for Swinson, it became the story she never wanted.


As soon as the exit polls landed at 10.30 pm in East Dunbartonshire, predicting that the Scottish National Party would repeat their clean sweep of Scotland in 2015 and seize as many as 55 seats, the campaign of Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson was on damage control.

A campaign spokesman told journalists that the party did not hold much stock by the polls, especially considering that pollsters visited just 12 Scottish constituencies out of 144 nationally. But we were also told, with no uncertainty, that Jo ‘would not be doing interviews’.

As the results began to come in showing huge SNP swings in marginal seats and massive majorities for candidates such as Mhairi Black, in nearby Paisley, it began to look like the exits were - as they have generally tended to be in previous elections - strikingly accurate.

With a majority of over 5,000, Swinson’s seat was not as marginal as some here in Scotland, but the SNP had poured resources into East Dunbartonshire and its 27-year-old candidate Amy Callaghan, and was clearly looking for a prominent scalp north of the border.

On the TVs dotted around the Leisuredome complex just outside the town of Kirkintilloch, in Glasgow’s commuter belt, the results steamed in and then, around 1.30 am, Jo Swinson was filmed getting into her car at her home nearby and heading to the count.

The press pack, at least a dozen strong, gathered three deep in the narrow entrance, with microphones, cameras and film crews jostling for position. They waited, and waited... and waited. By 2.10 am there was still no sign of the Liberal Democrat leader.

At 3 am, officials at the leisure centre milled around the lobby telling journalists that the count was expected in 15 minutes - ten minutes later, Swinson finally arrived, forcing her way through the press pack as journalists shouted: “Will you lose your seat Ms Swinson”.

The deadline for the count then came and went. At 3.30 am, the SNP took the marginal constituency of Fife and the nationalists win north of the border started to look like a rout. In the lobby, we saw a Swinson campaigner pacing, talking on the phone, then shaking his head.

Eight minutes later, it was all over - Swinson had lost by just 149 votes. In a heartfelt speech, she paid tribute to her opponent but also warned about the perils of nationalism on both sides of the border, and her disappointment that Boris Johnson had seized a majority in parliament.

“We were honest about what we believe in and what we were trying to achieve, “ she said.

“This is clearly a setback for liberal values. But there are millions of people across the country who believe in them. By coming together to fight for them, we can create a positive future."

Swinson is only 39, and this may not be the end of her political career. But unlike many MPs, she is actually from the constituency, born and raised in East Dunbartonshire and this is the second time in four years that she has lost her seat to the SNP.

Given Johnson’s sizeable majority in parliament after last night’s poll, it will likely be at least five years before the UK has another election. That means that Swinson, alongside Chuka Umunna and Sam Gyimah, who were also defeated last night, will be out of the game for some time.

There will be much reflection on who is to blame for demolition of the Liberal Democrats - and, indeed, Labour - north of the border on December 13. Jeremy Corbyn announced that he was stepping down as leader least night, as the party lost all but one of its seats in Scotland.

Paul Sweeney, a rising star of the Corbynite left, was defeated in Glasgow North East while Matt Kerr, another Labour Scot from the left of the party, was comfortably beaten in Glasgow South West. Only Edinburgh was willing to elect a Labour MP, Ian Murray, last night.

In promising to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit, Jo Swinson had been hoping to rally remainers to her cause - and while there are far more of them in Scotland than in England, it didn’t help her that Nicola Sturgeon’s anti-Brexit message was stronger and better articulated.

True to her campaign’s earlier promise, Swinson gave no interviews as she left the Leisuredome in East Dunbartonshire in the early hours of this morning. After just a few months in the limelight, she left through a side door, into the rain, chill and darkness of the Glasgow dawn.

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