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Glasgow Govan by-election, 1973

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The Glasgow Govan by-election was held on 8 November 1973,[1] following the death of John Rankin, Labour Party Member of Parliament for the Glasgow Govan constituency. Rankin had died one month earlier, on 8 October 1973. Rankin had held the seat since 1955. With the exception of a narrow Conservative victory in 1950, the seat had been solidly Labour-held since 1918. For the by-election the Labour Party nominated Harry Selby, a veteran activist in Glasgow and a former Trotskyist.

The Conservative Party, long the main opposition in the constituency, nominated John Mair, but as they were in mid-term government, they expected little from the election. Party support had also suffered after refusing the important local employer Upper Clyde Shipbuilders a government loan to continue operations.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) had barely won 10% of the vote in the constituency at the 1970 UK general election. Nonetheless, nationalist sentiment had increased following the discovery of North Sea Oil, and the party had performed very well in the Stirling and Falkirk by-election, 1971, and the Dundee East by-election, 1973. The SNP nominated the young teacher Margo MacDonald.

The Liberal Party, despite having held the constituency for considerable periods prior to 1918, had little base in Glasgow and had not even contested it in 1970. They stood Peter McMillan. The withdrawal of the Liberal Party allowed the Communist Party of Great Britain to poll fourth in 1970, with only 326 votes. With such a low count, they chose not to contest the 1973 by-election.


MacDonald won a shock victory for the SNP; this was only the party's fourth Parliamentary election victory, after the Motherwell by-election, 1945, the Hamilton by-election, 1967, and the Western Isles seat in 1970. The party gained an additional 31.2% of the vote, and MacDonald sat alongside Donald Stewart, SNP MP for the Western Isles, in the British House of Commons.

The Labour vote fell sharply, in an ominous defeat for the party, given that a general election was expected soon. The Conservative vote halved, and the party lost its deposit, placing only just ahead of the Liberals.

MacDonald lost the seat at the February 1974 UK general election to Selby, who himself stood down after only five years. However, the SNP were able to win seven other seats at the 1974 election, and established themselves as a permanent grouping in the British Parliament.

Glasgow Govan by-election, 1973
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
SNP Margo MacDonald 6,360 41.5 +31.2
Labour Harry Selby 5,789 38.2 -21.9
Conservative John Mair 1,780 11.7 -16.5
Liberal Peter McMillan 1,239 8.2
Majority 571 3.5
Turnout 15,168
SNP gain from Labour Swing 26.7
General Election 1970: Glasgow Govan
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour John Rankin 13,443 60.1
Conservative G. F. Belton 6,301 28.2
SNP Michael Grieve 2,294 10.3
Communist T. Biggam 326 1.5
Majority 7,142 31.9
Turnout 22,364 63.2
Labour hold Swing

See also


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