Triumphant Keir Starmer says Labour "blew the doors off" as he celebrates Scottish by-election win

6 October 2023, 12:11

Keir Starmer and new Labour MP Michael Shanks
Keir Starmer and new Labour MP Michael Shanks. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

Sir Keir Starmer told his celebrating Scottish party that they “blew the doors off” by winning the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election with a 20 per cent swing from the SNP.

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Labour insiders had predicted a swing of between ten and 13 per cent – but the resounding victory, he said, now puts the party on course to win constituencies across Scotland at the next General Election.

Some analysts have suggested if the swing is replicated uniformly then Labour would be the largest party in Scotland, which could lead to landing Starmer in No10.

Labour has famously had just one MP in Scotland for the last four years. Ian Murray, who represents Edinburgh South, was also its sole MP between 2015 and 2017, when the party saw seven MPs elected, only for that number to crash back to one at the snap 2019 election.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gives new Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West Michael Shanks a hug as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar looks on
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gives new Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West Michael Shanks a hug as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar looks on. Picture: Alamy

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Some analysts have suggested if the swing is replicated uniformly then Labour would be the largest party in Scotland, which could lead to landing Starmer in No10.

Labour has famously had just one MP in Scotland for the last four years. Ian Murray, who represents Edinburgh South, was also its sole MP between 2015 and 2017, when the party saw seven MPs elected, only for that number to crash back to one at the snap 2019 election.

Sir Keir also pitched his party as the only vehicle for change as he addressed a victory rally alongside Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and winning Labour candidate Michael Shanks.

"They said that we couldn't change the Labour Party and we did it,” he said. “They said that we couldn't win in the south of England and the north of England, and we did it. They said 'you'll never beat the SNP in Scotland' and Rutherglen, you did it. You blew the doors off!”

Sir Keir, whose party is riding high in the national polls, said voters had "turned their back" on a Tory government.

"But they also not so long ago saw a Labour Party that had drifted away from them. We've changed. And because we've changed, we are now the party of change here in Scotland. We're the party of change in Britain, we're the party of change right across the whole country."

SNP candidate Katy Loudon
SNP candidate Katy Loudon. Picture: Alamy

Labour candidate Mr Shanks secured 17,845 votes, well ahead of the 8,399 votes returned for his closest rival, the SNP's Katy Loudon.

After gaining more than 58% of the votes cast, Mr Shanks now has a majority of 9,446. However turnout in the by election was only 37 per cent.

The result confirms Labour poses "a serious challenge" to the SNP's primacy at Westminster and has a momentum comparable with the run-up to the party's 1997 landslide, according to polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice.

"That potentially has 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," he said.

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

The result also piles 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.

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.

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