The United Kingdom’s main opposition Labour Party has won an emphatic victory in a by-election for a Scottish district that was watched as an indicator of the party’s rebounding popularity before a national election next year.
Labour took the parliamentary seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, near Glasgow, from the Scottish National Party. The result doubles Labour’s total of Scottish seats from one to two.
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Labour candidate Michael Shanks won 17,845 votes, more than twice the number taken by SNP runner-up Katy Loudon. The Scottish Conservatives came a distant third.
Labour leader Keir Starmer called it a “seismic result.”
“It was a big step in the right direction, an important one,” he said on Friday.
The election was called when the former lawmaker, Margaret Ferrier, was removed by her constituents for breaking coronavirus restrictions in 2020 by taking a long train journey when she had COVID-19.
Pressure builds on SNP’s Yousaf
Labour was long dominant in Scotland but in the past 15 years has been all but wiped out by the SNP, which wants Scotland to leave the UK and become an independent country.
The result adds to pressure on Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, who took over as SNP leader in March after his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon resigned amid a continuing police investigation into the party’s finances.
The party, which has dominated Scottish politics for more than a decade, has seen its popularity slump and has reached an impasse in its push for a new referendum on independence.
“It’s a tough day for the SNP, a disappointing result. There’s no point pretending otherwise.” Yousaf said. “The SNP has to reflect, we’ve got to regroup, we’ve got to reorganise.”
Starmer’s party needs to regain ground in Scotland to win a majority of seats in a general election that must be called by the end of 2024. Labour has been out of power since 2010.
A ‘good night’ for Labour
University of Strathclyde polling expert John Curtice said the 20 percent swing to Labour – if replicated at a general election – could allow the party to recapture dozens of seats north of the border.
That could have “implications for the overall outcome in the general election because, if that were to happen, they would find it easier to get an overall majority”, Curtice added.
Starmer’s Labour has enjoyed double-digit poll leads for months as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has grappled with stubbornly high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.
Recent surveys, however, have shown the gap narrowing, following a host of populist policies announced by Sunak in recent weeks.
But Curtice said the Scottish result “firmly” confirmed “the direction of travel indicated by the polls”.
The Conservative Party also suffered a big defeat to Labour in July in the northern English constituency of Selby and Ainsty.
Curtice said taken together the wins were the “kind of results that you see in advance of general elections when parties are on course to win”, adding that it had been a “remarkably good night” for Labour.
Labour was once the dominant force in Scottish politics but has seen its influence decline at a national level since the end of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government in 2010.
In the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, the SNP has long been the biggest party and currently governs in a coalition with the pro-independence Greens.