Published: 30/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5840 Page 15
Glasgow may soon have a medic politician, swept to power on a tide of public concern about reconfiguration of local services.Might it ring some familiar warning bells at Westminster? Jennifer Trueland reports
At first sight, Kidderminster may not seem to have much in common with Glasgow.
One is a market town (population 52,000) in the heart of rural Worcestershire and is known as the birthplace of the British carpet industry. The other, with more than 10 times the population, is blighted by the post-industrial downturn, has a reputation as the heart attack capital of western Europe and some of the worst illhealth and poverty in the developed world.
But Dr Jean Turner is hoping that voters in the constituency of Strathkelvin and Bearsden, near Glasgow, will emulate their counterparts in the West Midlands and eschew the traditional political parties.
Like Kidderminster's MP for Wyre Forest, Dr Richard Taylor, the retired Scottish GP is standing for election on a pro-NHS ticket, in protest at planned service reorganisation.
She is standing for the Scottish Parliament elections in May.
As in Worcestershire, the acute service review in Glasgow has provoked some bitter reactions.
Greater Glasgow health board agreed the way forward last year.
Backed with£700m from the Scottish Executive, two of the city's five acute hospitals will become ambulatory care and diagnostic centres (ACAD).
The review process has sparked a furious campaign, petitions with thousands of names and even an intra-cabinet row (one of the Scottish Executive ministers, Mike Watson, a Glasgow MSP, has been open in his opposition to the plan).
Now it could lose Labour one of its Holyrood seats.
'I am rather surprised myself that I've agreed to run for election, ' explains Dr Turner. 'But I feel so cross and so frustrated that the Scottish Executive can just ignore what the people are saying. How can they ignore a petition with 43,000 signatures?'
Dr Turner could be dismissed as just another independent, somewhat hopelessly trying to make a point at the ballot box. But as we have learned from Kidderminster, their local hospital is one thing that can sway voters away from traditional party loyalties.
Privately, ministers admit that the Kidderminster effect, as it has become known, has put tremendous pressure on those trying to carry out service reconfiguration - particularly in marginal seats.
More than one sitting MSP has looked with horror at proposed shake-ups which could turn the electorate away from them, even without the fear of an outside candidate.
Dr Turner can point to other parts of Scotland where she says discontent is just as rife. In Fife, local opposition is mounting against plans which could see one of its district general hospitals also turned into an ACAD.
But the threat in Glasgow is more pressing. Any betting person might like to note that Dr Turner has form. 'I halved the Labour majority last time, ' she says, pointing out that in the Scottish Parliament by-election last year she came second to the winner, Labour's Brian Fitzpatrick.
'I got more than 7,000 votes and was ahead of the Liberal Democrats. You would think that might have made a difference and that Brian Fitzpatrick might have come over and talked to me.
Maybe [he could have] said I would fought a good campaign on something that people obviously cared about, so maybe I could tell him about it. But nothing.He hasn't been in touch.'
The Scottish Socialists and the Green Party have said they will not field candidates against Dr Turner. And there have been indications that other political parties may be taking her candidacy seriously.
Although she doesn't know where the smears have come from, Dr Turner says that rumours have been spread about her, without, she says, a shred of evidence.
For example, some people have said she is a closet Tory (not a popular thing in Scotland). Others have said, with no foundation, that she is against asylum seekers.
Dr Turner said she was partly swayed to stand by people, particularly traditional Labour supporters, telling her that they would not vote at all if she didn't stand.
She also accepts that the fact that she can call herself 'Dr' means she is taken more seriously in a world which still, by and large, respects the medical profession and thinks that doctors know what they are talking about.
It is clear talking to Dr Turner that she doesn't have much time for politicians and has no traditional party loyalties, having been, as she describes it, a floating voter who has sometimes voted tactically.
If elected, however, she will have no qualms about taking up her seat and fighting for her constituents.
'In a way, I think being an MSP could be like general practice.As a GP, I worked with the same group of people for 25 years. You get to know them and what they need.
I would hope to work the same way as an MSP.'