Labour leader Keir Starmer faces a critical test of his chances of becoming UK prime minister on Thursday, when a vote in Scotland will give an indication of his party’s ability to win key districts.
(Bloomberg) — Labour leader Keir Starmer faces a critical test of his chances of becoming UK prime minister on Thursday, when a vote in Scotland will give an indication of his party’s ability to win key districts.
The by-election in the Glasgow suburb of Rutherglen and Hamilton West will see Labour attempt to replace the Scottish National Party in a seat that’s swung between the two parties at every election since 2015. The outcome will demonstrate whether Labour is on track to replace Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives as the UK’s governing party at the next general election, widely expected in about a year’s time.
The district in what used to be a Labour heartland is a “must-win” and typical of the kind of parliamentary seat the party will have to recover if it’s going to take power, according to John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University in Glasgow and an influential psephologist. While bookmakers make Labour the overwhelming favorite to win, Curtice has said the margin of victory is as important as the result itself.
Scotland is a target for Labour as it seeks to unseat the Conservatives after 13 years in power, during which time the pro-independence SNP has dominated Scottish politics.
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Critical to gaining ground is how willing Scots who want to break away from the rest of the UK are to “lend” their votes to Starmer to help remove the Conservatives from power.
Support for the SNP has fallen in recent months amid a police investigation into its finances. But backing for independence has remained largely unchanged, with the nation of 5.4 million roughly split down the middle. It will also be the first major ballot since Nicola Sturgeon, one the UK’s most popular politicians, stepped down as leader of the SNP and head of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in March.
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A recent opinion poll suggested the nationalists could lose as many as 23 of the Scottish seats they hold in the UK Parliament in London. While Labour would add 19 seats to the single one the party holds now, the SNP would remain the largest party in Scotland with 25, based on research by consultancy Stonehaven published in the Times newspaper on Monday.
That said, the poll also found that the SNP would remain the largest party in Glasgow, a city Labour has traditionally needed to win if it’s to take power nationally. The special election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West was called after former SNP lawmaker Margaret Ferrier was removed by her constituents for breaking Covid travel rules.
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