A POLITICAL earthquake struck Scotland last week - with East Dunbartonshire at the epicentre.
Overnight on Thursday, the area’s politics changed in the most dramatic fashion possible.
When the dust settled, two Labour Party stalwarts - both tipped as potential leaders of their party at Holyrood - found themselves suddenly, and unexpectedly, out of a job.
They were replaced by their SNP rivals - swept to power by a tide which saw the Nationalists gain overall control of the Scottish Parliament in one of the most stunning events in this country’s modern political history.
Des McNulty had represented voters in Milngavie since the parliament was first created in 1999 - but he was replaced by Gil Paterson, formerly a West of Scotland List MSP, who now commands a majority of 714.
In Strathkelvin and Bearsden, Labour big hitter David Whitton - who had been a 5/4 favourite to replace the politically ailing Iain Gray as his party’s leader - was replaced by Fiona McLeod, also a former List MSP, who now finds herself sitting on a majority of 1,802.
Mr Paterson said he was “stunned” by the extent of the SNP victory - even though the party’s private polls had shown it was on the cards.
He is the chair of their now greatly enlarged Nationalist parliamentary group and told how on Saturday, at the first meeting of the new group, he and First Minister Alex Salmond had to stand up so that they could be seen by the 67 other MSPs present.
He said: “I’m on cloud nine. It’s stunning, but I’ll be honest, before the campaign started I knew things were moving in our direction.
“I wasn’t sure it was going to happen - I knew I would be there or thereabouts, but it was still a pleasant surprise.
“I have been handed a great responsibility and I feel humbled. We all know how strong Labour has been in this area but now the electorate are looking for something different.
“During the campiagn, people were explaining why they would be voting for me. Some said it was because of who I am but others said it was because they like the way the SNP had governed and had worked and they wanted to give us another five years.
“The victory was immense but I always expected this to happen - otherwise I would not have joined the Scottish National Party.
“I’ve got a great faith in the Scottish people. Now we have a job to do - and we’ve got to prove that we’ve got the capacity and the ability to run the country well in difficult times, and then all I’d ask is that the people of Scotland at least open their minds to the posibility of an independent Scotland.”
He added: “There are two pressing concerns I have now. One is the effect of the cuts. We’re going to have four or five difficult years ahead of us and we have to minimise the impact of cuts on people’s lives. We have to manage this in a way that doesn’t become too painful.
“Also, in this constituency, there’s a problem with youth unemployment, so I’m keen to look at initiatives to sort this out - whether that involves input from private companies or the government.”
Fiona McLeod has pledged that her day-to-day experiences of living in Bearsden would help shape her priorities as an MSP.
Mrs McLeod, a List member in the first parliament, told the Herald: “I’m elated but I’m also humbled to be elected to represent the place that I live in. It’s a dream come true.
“To be in the first Scottish Parliament was historic but to be elected on your own turf is wonderful. We predicted this might happen - we’ve been campaigning here since last August and our polling has tracked national polls, so we knew something was happening but in politics you never count your chickens.
“Even in general conversation to neighbours and others, it was obvious that people were listening to the SNP’s message.
“My priorities will be set by my constituents. From the work I’ve been doing on the doors, one issue in this area that has come across very strongly is care of the elderly.
“East Dunbartonshire has the highest rising elderly population of over-65s in Scotland. I care or my 83-year-old mother and have a 99-year-old father-in-law and I also worked for Carers Link in Milngavie for nine months, so I’m well aware of the challenges facing people.
“It’s great to live that long - but despite all the financial challenges, we have, as a society, to make sure people have a good old age. Hopefully, I can play a part in shaping policy in this area.”