Labour has claimed a stunning victory in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, defeating the SNP by a large margin and increasing its share of the vote by more than 20%.
How Labour pulled off a historic win
- The by-election was triggered by the resignation of former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, who breached Covid-19 rules by travelling between Scotland and London while infected.
- Labour selected Michael Shanks, a local councillor and former teacher, as its candidate. He campaigned on a platform of delivering change for the constituency, which has been hit hard by poverty, unemployment and drug deaths.
- Labour also benefited from the popularity of its Scottish leader Anas Sarwar, who has been praised for his performance in the Scottish Parliament elections in May, where he increased Labour’s vote share and seats.
- Labour also managed to attract voters who were disillusioned with the SNP’s record in government and its focus on independence, as well as those who wanted to send a message to Boris Johnson’s Conservative government.
What the result means for Scottish politics
- The result is a major blow for the SNP, which had held the seat since 2015 and had hoped to retain it with a reduced majority. The SNP’s candidate Katy Loudon, a health worker and trade unionist, received only 34.5% of the vote, down from 54.7% in 2019.
- The result also shows that Labour is making a comeback in Scotland, where it once dominated but has been reduced to a distant third place behind the SNP and the Conservatives in recent years. Labour now has two MPs in Scotland, up from one before the by-election.
- The result also challenges the SNP’s claim that there is a mandate for a second independence referendum, as it shows that there is still a strong appetite for the union among Scottish voters. The SNP has argued that its victory in the Scottish Parliament elections, where it won 64 out of 129 seats, gives it the right to hold another vote on Scotland’s future.
How the other parties fared
- The Conservative candidate Lynne Nailon came third with 12.7% of the vote, down from 16.1% in 2019. The Tories had hoped to capitalise on their strong performance in the Scottish Parliament elections, where they remained the main opposition party with 31 seats.
- The Liberal Democrat candidate Mark McGeever came fourth with 2.7% of the vote, up from 1.8% in 2019. The Lib Dems had hoped to appeal to pro-EU voters who were unhappy with Brexit and the SNP’s stance on independence.
- The Green candidate Colette Walker came fifth with 1.6% of the vote, down from 2.3% in 2019. The Greens had hoped to build on their success in the Scottish Parliament elections, where they increased their seats from six to eight and formed a cooperation agreement with the SNP.
What the leaders said
- UK Labour leader Keir Starmer hailed the result as a “seismic” victory that showed his party’s message of change was cutting through. He said: “I have always said that winning back the trust of people in Scotland is essential. Tonight’s victory is the culmination of three and a half years of hard work and humility on that journey.”
- Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the result had “flipped Scottish politics on its head” and demonstrated that Labour was “the vehicle for change across the country”. He said: “Voters across Scotland and across Britain want a government determined to deliver for working people, with a proper plan to rebuild our country.”
- SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon congratulated Shanks on his win but said she was “disappointed” with the result. She said: “This was always going to be a tough fight for us given Margaret Ferrier’s conduct – which was unacceptable – but we fought hard.”
- Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the result was “a disaster” for Sturgeon and showed that her “obsession” with independence was “out of touch” with voters. He said: “This is an incredible result for Anas Sarwar and Scottish Labour who have taken this seat from the SNP against all expectations.”
What happens next?
- The result will boost Labour’s morale and confidence ahead of the next general election, which is due to take place by May 2024. Labour will hope to replicate its success in other parts of Scotland and across Britain, where it trails behind the Conservatives in most opinion polls.
- The result will also put pressure on the SNP to deliver on its promises and address the challenges facing Scotland, such as Covid-19 recovery, health and social care, education and climate change. The SNP will also have to decide whether to push for another independence referendum or focus on governing within the UK.
- The result will also have implications for the other parties, especially the Conservatives, who will have to rethink their strategy and message in Scotland and beyond. The Conservatives will have to defend their record in government and offer a positive vision for the future of the UK.