Key questions around Rutherglen by-election win Starmer hails as ‘seismic’

Labour won the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election in a resounding victory over the SNP the party leadership has declared “seismic”.

Here, the PA news agency answers some of the key questions surrounding the contest.

-What was the result?

Labour candidate Michael Shanks won the seat, which is in South Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland, after securing more than twice the votes of his closest rival, the SNP’s Katy Loudon.

Mr Shanks won 17,845 votes, well ahead of the 8,399 votes returned for Ms Loudon.

After securing more than 58% of the votes cast, Mr Shanks has a majority of 9,446.

Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with winning Labour candidate for Rutherglen and Hamilton West Michael Shanks and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (Jane Barlow/PA)

The swing to Labour from the SNP was markedly higher than expected – at 20.4 percentage points.

It surpassed Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s prediction the vote could swing by around 14% in his party’s favour.

Swing is the term used to describe changes in party support.

-What does the result mean for Labour?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the result as “seismic” and a “big step in the right direction” on his path to No 10.

It led polling experts to believe that Labour could return to being the largest party north of the border and open the door to Downing Street if there is a similar swing at the next general election.

Labour once enjoyed strong support in Scotland, sending more than 40 MPs from Scotland to Westminster in 2010.

But its representation collapsed after the independence referendum in 2014, and it was all but wiped out in in 2019, managing to hold just one seat of Scotland’s 59 seats in Westminster.

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West result means Labour has two MPs in Scotland.

While it has a vast amount of ground to make up, Labour’s victory in the seat is being seen as a change in the Scottish political weather and a clearer path to a Labour majority in the House of Commons.

Elections analyst Professor Sir John Curtice said that if the by-election result was replicated across Scotland, Labour would be the dominant party there again with at least 40 seats.

He said that would make it easier for Sir Keir’s party “to get an overall majority” at the general election, expected next year.

Pollster Mark Diffley also said Scottish Labour’s apparent revival would make Sir Keir’s job of winning power “much easier”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the Labour Party is “back on the pitch”.

His party was 32 points behind the SNP when he became leader, he said, adding: “For us two years on to win a parliamentary by-election for the first time in more than 12 years in Scotland, to get more than double the vote share of the SNP and to get a swing of more than 20%, is seismic, it is huge, it is significant.”

The result provides Sir Keir with a huge boost days before the party gathers for its autumn conference in Liverpool.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The result will pile more pressure on SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf – who has seen his party’s fortunes decline in the polls in the wake of the ongoing police investigation into SNP finances.

Mr Yousaf stressed during the election campaign that his party was facing “some very difficult circumstances”, but afterwards acknowledged it had been a “disappointing night” for the SNP.

He faces a potentially tense and rebellious SNP national conference, his first as party leader, later this month.

The SNP is also grappling with the issues of having been in power for 16 years and its ultimate objective of securing independence for Scotland appearing a distant prospect.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said his party cannot carry on with “business as usual” in light of its defeat.

-What about the other parties?

The Scottish Conservatives came in third place, with Thomas Kerr polling 1,192 ahead of Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate Gloria Adebo and Scottish Green Party candidate Cameron Eadie, who secured 895 and 601 votes respectively.

All candidates bar Labour’s and the SNP’s lost their deposits, leading Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to describe it as a “two-horse race”.

He said he was “very confident” the Tories could increase their seats at the general election, but added: “We have to be realistic. There are parts of the central belt which have always been a battle between Labour and the SNP. And that’s just how politics works.

“Just as there are parts of the country that are a battle between the Conservatives and the SNP.”

The by-election result will not have cheered Conservatives, who, having been in power for 13 years, are languishing in the national polls.

All eyes have been on the Rutherglen and Hamilton West poll as the seat is seen as a bellwether for the national contest, being representative of central Scotland constituencies that were once Labour heartlands before being won by the SNP.

But there are notes of caution to reading too much into the result too.

The seat has changed hands four times between the SNP and Labour since 2010.

Turnout was low. A total of 30,531 votes were cast in the by-election, standing at 37.2%, well below the 66.5% turnout in the last general election in 2019.

And Labour was helped by the headlines on the police probe into the SNP’s finances, as well as the chain of events which led to the by-election.

-Why was the contest taking place?

The by-election was called after a recall petition against Margaret Ferrier, who had won the seat for the SNP in 2019 with a majority of 5,230.

Ms Ferrier however had the SNP whip removed after breaching Covid rules in 2020, and after remaining as an independent MP was suspended from the House of Commons, resulting in the recall petition – Scotland’s first for a sitting MP.

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