Labour wins Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, dealing a blow to SNP

What happened in the by-election?

  • The by-election was held on Thursday, October 5, 2023, to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, who breached Covid-19 rules.
  • Labour candidate Mark Griffin won the seat with 18,832 votes, a 41.8% share of the vote and a 5.2% swing from the SNP.
  • SNP candidate Owen Thompson came second with 16,871 votes, a 37.4% share of the vote and a 7.4% drop from the 2019 general election.
  • Conservative candidate Lynne Nailon came third with 5,456 votes, a 12.1% share of the vote and a 1.6% increase from 2019.
  • The turnout was 51.4%, down from 67.3% in 2019.

What does this mean for the SNP and independence?

  • The loss of Rutherglen and Hamilton West is a setback for the SNP, which had held the seat since 2015 and had hoped to retain it as a show of strength for its independence agenda.
  • The SNP leader Humza Yousaf said he was “disappointed” by the result and blamed it on a “combination of woes” that had affected the party, such as policy failures, internal divisions, leadership challenges and a lack of clarity on the referendum strategy.
  • The SNP also faced competition from other pro-independence parties, such as Alba and the Greens, which together won 4.6% of the vote.
  • The result suggests that the SNP may have lost some support from independence-leaning voters who are frustrated by the stalemate over holding another referendum or who are attracted by Labour’s social democratic policies.

labour candidate mark griffin celebrating with keir starmer

What does this mean for Labour and Keir Starmer?

  • The win in Rutherglen and Hamilton West is a boost for Labour and its leader Keir Starmer, who had visited the constituency twice during the campaign and had made it a priority target.
  • The win is also Labour’s first by-election gain in Scotland since 2008 and its first Westminster by-election gain since 2017.
  • The win shows that Labour is making some progress in recovering its former stronghold in Scotland, where it had been squeezed out by the SNP and the Tories in recent years.
  • The win also indicates that Labour may be able to appeal to some voters who are disillusioned with the SNP or who are wary of another divisive referendum on independence.

What does this mean for the future of Scottish politics?

  • The result of the by-election may have some implications for the future of Scottish politics, especially in the run-up to the next general election, which is expected in 2024.
  • The result may signal that the SNP is not invincible and that it may face more challenges from other parties, both pro- and anti-independence, in retaining its seats and advancing its cause.
  • The result may also suggest that Labour is not dead in Scotland and that it may have a chance to regain some ground and challenge the SNP as the main alternative to the Tories at Westminster.
  • The result may also reflect that the constitutional issue is not the only factor that influences voters’ choices and that other issues, such as Covid-19 recovery, health, education and social justice, may also matter.

How did the voters react to the result?

  • The reaction of the voters to the result was mixed, depending on their political preferences and views on independence.
  • Some voters who backed Labour said they were happy with the outcome and praised Mark Griffin as a local candidate who understood their concerns and needs.
  • Some voters who supported the SNP said they were disappointed with the loss and criticised Humza Yousaf as a weak leader who failed to deliver on his promises and vision.
  • Some voters who voted for other parties said they were indifferent to the result and expressed their dissatisfaction with both Labour and SNP as options.

What will happen next?

  • The result of the by-election will not change the balance of power at Westminster, where the Tories have a comfortable majority and where Labour remains in opposition.
  • However, the result may have some impact on the political dynamics in Scotland, where the SNP still dominates at Holyrood but where Labour may hope to revive its fortunes.
  • The result may also affect the prospects of another referendum on independence, which remains a contentious issue between the Scottish and UK governments and between different sections of Scottish society.
  • The result may also prompt some reflection and adjustment from both Labour and SNP on their strategies, policies and leaderships ahead of future elections.
By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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