Euan McColm Euan McColm

Is Scottish Labour really a threat to the SNP?

(Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Members of the Scottish Labour party may be forgiven for feelings of jubilation following publication of a new poll. Sir Keir Starmer arrived in Leith near Edinburgh this morning to be met by comrades cheered by the suggestion their party is on course to defeat the SNP at a general election for the first time since 2010.

A Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times has Labour winning 26 of Scotland’s 59 seats and the nationalists just 21. Given that Labour took only one seat in Scotland in 2019 while the SNP won 48, this would mark quite the reversal of fortunes. But Labour supporters who believe this poll signals the beginning of the end for the SNP’s political dominance in Scotland would be wise to insert a degree of caution into their analysis.

From the day the Scottish parliament opened in 1999, senior Labour figures at Westminster (most notably Gordon Brown) meddled in policy, undermining colleagues at Holyrood.

The truth is that a viable Labour party was always going to make life tricky for the nationalists in general elections. Whenever it has appeared the Conservatives are on course to win, the SNP’s message that only independence could rid Scotland of ‘unelected’ Tory governments has resonated loudly and clearly. In 2019, it was perfectly obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention to events that Boris Johnson’s Tories would thrash Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. This meant a handsome dividend for the SNP. Now that Labour looks likely to win the next general election, it’s hardly surprising that many Scots wish to play their part in the defeat of the Tories. However, many of those same voters will, I think, be content to return to the SNP fold at the next Holyrood election in 2026.

Join me, why don’t you, in my time machine. Back in the foreign country of 2007, Alex Salmond led the SNP to its first Scottish parliamentary election victory despite support for independence polling in the high 20s.

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