Andrew Liddle

Why Labour needs a clear victory in this Scottish by-election

Right to left: Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, Labour leader Keir Starmer and Labour candidate for Rutherglen and Hamilton West Michael Shanks. Credit: Robert Perry/PA Wire/PA Images

The Labour party could hardly ask for better than the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election as a means to judge the strength of their resurgence in Scotland. Sitting on the cusp of Greater Glasgow, it is situated in the party’s former central belt heartlands — an area once so Labour it was joked that votes for the party were weighed, not counted.

The seat was lost in the nationalist landslide of 2015 before Labour quickly won it back in 2017. Though the party lost it again to the nationalists in 2019, it now has an eminently beatable SNP majority of 5,230. Perhaps most importantly, the by-election is taking place because Margaret Ferrier, The SNP victor in both 2015 and 2019, was suspended from the House of Commons after breaking Covid rules.

The recall petition against Ferrier was endorsed by almost 12,000 constituents which means Labour already has a significant and motivated base of support.

Given such circumstances, the question is not whether Labour will experience victory in the coming by-election, likely to be held in October, but by what margin it will win by. Early indications suggest it could be substantial. The recall petition against Ferrier was endorsed by almost 12,000 constituents which, on the safe assumption they are unlikely to be SNP supporters, means Labour already has a significant and motivated base of support.

At the same time, while not a strong area for the Tories in general, there is a concentration of support for the Conservative party in the wealthier areas of Rutherglen and Hamilton West: 15 per cent of constituents backed the party in 2019. While Labour will be wary of being seen to actively court Conservative voters, the result in Somerset and Frome suggests that people are more than capable of voting tactically when they wish to. If Labour can spearhead an anti-SNP coalition, that will be further evidence of the party’s likely recovery.

The key factor will be the strength of SNP support.

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Written by
Andrew Liddle

Andrew Liddle is a political writer and former adviser to Scottish Labour. He is author of Cheers, Mr Churchill! and Ruth Davidson and the Resurgence of the Scottish Tories.

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