Labour is celebrating an overwhelming win over the SNP in Scotland’s first recall by-election, with Sir Keir Starmer hailing it as a “seismic” result.
The win in Rutherglen and Hamilton West saw Labour gain a share of the vote higher than opinion polls suggested and could lead to the party winning 40 seats north of the border if it achieves the same 20% swing in a general election.
It could see the party retake its position as the biggest party in Scotland and, according to polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice, could put the party on course for Downing Street if this is replicated in a general election.
Sir Keir said: “This is a seismic result. People in Rutherglen and Hamilton West have sent a clear message – it is time for change. And it is clear they believe that this changed Labour Party can deliver it.”
Sir John told the PA news agency: “This result very firmly confirms the direction of travel indicated by the polls and that Labour do pose a serious challenge to the SNP’s continued dominance at Westminster.
“But also the kinds of increases that Labour have registered in their vote in this by-election, what they achieved in Selby, this is the kind of results that you see in advance of general elections when parties are on course to win.”
Sir John said the swing of around 20% was a “remarkably good night” for Labour.
If this result were to be replicated around Scotland, Labour would “quite clearly” become the dominant party north of the border again, he said.
He told Sky: “I think for Labour this signifies both a return to previous dominance here in Scotland.
“And actually, more importantly in the short term given how close we are to a general election, it makes Keir Starmer’s job of winning power next year much easier.”
After the win, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said his party is “targeting significant gains” at the next general election.
“I think what you’ve seen happen in Scotland overnight is people move away and reject the politics of division, of chaos and incompetence, and instead express a desire for the fresh start, express a desire for change.
“They can now see that Scottish Labour is the vehicle for that change.”
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.
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.
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.
Mr Yousaf, who made frequent visits to the constituency during the election campaign, stressed his party was facing “some very difficult circumstances”.
But he said the buck would stop with him if his party failed to hold on to the seat, and afterwards he conceded it had been a “disappointing night” for the SNP.
He posted on X that the “circumstances of this by-election were always very difficult for us”, with Mr Yousaf adding the “collapse in the Tory vote” had gone straight to Labour, and that this was a “significant factor” in the result.
But the SNP leader added: “We lost this seat in 2017, and like 2019 we can win this seat back.
“We will reflect on what we have to do to regain the trust of the people of Rutherglen & Hamilton West.”
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said his party cannot carry on with “business as usual” in light of its defeat.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We have lost by a significant margin, we know that our vote has not turned out and we know that we need to remotivate people to vote for the Scottish National Party.
“Ultimately the Scottish National Party has unfinished business … and I want to get on and ensure that we are an independent nation before too long.”
Prior to the by-election Labour had just one MP in Scotland, with the party now hoping the result in Rutherglen and Hamilton West will be a springboard for the next general election, expected to be held some time next year.
Speaking at the count in Hamilton he said: “The message from tonight is a resoundingly clear one – we have had more than enough of managed decline, more than enough of division, more than enough of distracted, chaotic government.”
Mr Shanks added the result showed that “there is no part of this country where Labour can’t win”.
He declared: “Labour can kick the Tories out of Downing Street next year and deliver the change people want and this country so badly needs. Tonight is one part of that journey.”