They had balloons, handmade posters and a big red van lit up with ‘Michael Shanks: A Fresh Start’ flashing on the side. The Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election is Labour’s to lose and don’t they know it. Despite the pressure on the modern studies teacher and now-Labour candidate Michael Shanks, the atmosphere at Labour’s by-election launch was relaxed – if the Glaswegian weather miserable. Former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier lost her seat on Tuesday night and constituents will face a second vote in October, a by-election that will bring the SNP and Labour head to head.
Tuesday’s result was a small win for Labour – literally. The recall petition’s low turnout of 14 per cent is nothing to boast about and suggests that while voters were unhappy with Ferrier’s Covid breaches – and perhaps with the SNP more generally – their apathy extended towards the Labour party too. Shanks has been campaigning with Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer for months, and while he has come across disillusioned SNP supporters, he accepts the task ahead of him is sizable.
‘The other day I had a woman who showed me her SNP membership card and was not voting SNP,’ he told reporters on Wednesday morning. ‘Now, these people are not immediately saying they’re voting Labour, but they’re open to the conversation. I’ve got 60,000 more [people] to speak to, and that’s what our target will be over the next two months.’
While events leading up to the recall petition were hardly ideal for the SNP, Shanks’ selection caused a stir among Labour activists after the names of local choices – particularly councillor Mo Razzaq and trade-unionist Leah Stalker – didn’t appear on the ballot paper.