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The by-election dominated by the cost of living – BBC News

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  • By David Wallace Lockhart
  • BBC Scotland political correspondent

The looming Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election is seen, by many, as a teaser of the next general election in Scotland.

Politics devotees can’t wait to read the runes and speculate about what the result means.

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But, on the ground, voters on the outskirts of Glasgow are more concerned with personal finances than political fortunes.

Speak to residents here and there’s one phrase that comes up again and again – the cost of living.

Some parts of Rutherglen and Hamilton West are within the 5% most deprived areas in Scotland.

Relative child poverty is above both the Scottish and UK average.

But there are people trying to help when it comes to cost of living pressures.

Image caption, Fitness coach Luke Fulton believes radical action is required from politicians to tackle poverty

Luke Fulton is a fitness coach. He runs a weekly class at a community centre in Cambuslang, one of the towns in the constituency.

Donations from those taking part are then reinvested into other services that the Whitlawburn Community Resource Centre provides. This includes its foodbank.

Before I join in for a gruelling session of squats, star jumps and crunches, Luke tells me that gym memberships are one of the monthly outgoings that many have cut back on.

He wants people to access a workout regardless of their financial position. His day job is training private clients, but on a Monday evening he gives something back to the community.

“Everyone is really being squeezed, no matter what their background is,” he tells me.

Luke has a vote in the by-election, but admits to being “quite apathetic”.

He thinks politicians are tinkering when radical action on living costs is required. “The ship is sinking and we are arguing about whether to paint it white or black,” he says.

Image caption, Local businesses have been feeling the pressure of the cost of living crisis

Luke’s girlfriend, Abbie Robinson-O’Neill, helps him run his fitness business. She says that she struggled financially when work fell through after the pandemic.

She adds that her own “insane” gym membership prices have forced her to switch to a cheaper option.

After our 45-minute workout, a number of attendees tell me how valuable Luke’s classes are. Some say that gym access would be too much of a luxury right now.

The community’s “really struggling”, warns one, adding that they’re seeing “massive” poverty in the area.

Elizabeth, another attendee, also works in the community centre. She describes her job as “firefighting”.

She warns that local people are struggling to pay for essential items, such as food and school uniforms.

Elizabeth has tales of families with two parents working in public sector jobs, and yet frequent visits to the foodbank are still required.

Energy costs are a big problem in the area, Elizabeth adds, warning: “It shouldn’t be like this. We’re in this digital age but yet we can’t even afford to heat a tin of beans.”

Tough time for business

Elizabeth’s speech elicits a round of applause from other class attendees.

At a block of flats near the community centre, we grab a quick word with Margaret, who works nearby as a school cleaner.

Leaning out her window, she says she doesn’t believe any political party is capable of addressing cost of living problems.

Though she normally votes, she tells me that she may sit this by-election out.

It’s not just individuals who are feeling the pinch in this part of Scotland. It’s a tough time for businesses too.

Just off the M74 motorway in Rutherglen you’ll find Equi’s ice-cream factory – a fourth generation family-run business.

Image caption, Spiralling energy costs have put pressure on firms, including Equi’s where Caitlin Shields works

Caitlin Shields, who has worked for the firm for four years, gives me a tour.

From raspberry ripple to parma violet, there’s no shortage of flavours stacked in their -22C store room.

While the products stay frozen, their costs do not.

The firm’s electricity bills have recently jumped from £9,000 a month to £19,000.

Some machines and facilities have to run constantly, and their six refrigerated vans need charged twice a day.

“It’s eating away. It’s energy constantly,” says Caitlin.

She adds that prices have had to go up to address rising production costs.

She stresses that the firm has “loyal customers”, but they’re ordering less as the cost-of-living squeeze hits.

Staging post

Leaving the Equi’s factory and driving through the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency, it’s clear that the new MP will represent some affluent pockets.

But deprivation is evident in places, and it’s obvious that problems with the cost of living are first and foremost in the minds of many voters.

Scottish by-elections are rare and this vote will be a significant staging post on the path to the general election.

We’ve got weeks of campaigning to go, but shortly after the polls close the door-knocking will cease and the cameras will disappear, as the commentators reflect on the result.

Amid the inevitable political fallout are those simply concerned with making ends meet.

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