The UK’s main opposition Labour Party won a parliamentary election in Scotland, a significant boost for leader Keir Starmer as he prepares to use his party’s annual conference to show he’s on course to win power in a nationwide vote expected next year.
(Bloomberg) — The UK’s main opposition Labour Party won a parliamentary election in Scotland, a significant boost for leader Keir Starmer as he prepares to use his party’s annual conference to show he’s on course to win power in a nationwide vote expected next year.
Labour’s Michael Shanks won 17,845 votes in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, southeast of Glasgow, taking the district from the Scottish National Party. The SNP’s Katy Loudon finished second with 8,399 votes.
The seat has switched between Labour and the SNP at every vote since 2015, but the result will bolster Starmer’s argument that his party is on track to pick up enough seats in Scotland to help him oust Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak from Downing Street in the general election.
The timing of the special election raised the stakes for Labour, days before the party’s lawmakers and fee-paying members head to Liverpool, northwest England, on Sunday. Starmer will use the high-profile event to galvanize activists and present himself as the true candidate for change, after Sunak used the Tories’ own gathering this week to try to distance himself from 13 years of Conservative governments that have left his party deeply unpopular.
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Labour leads the Tories by about 20 points in national opinion polls, but the nature of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system complicates the link between a party’s broader popularity and the distribution of seats in Parliament. Scotland has always played a key role in Labour’s fortunes and the party’s strategists have set a target of taking about 16 seats — they won one in 2019 — next year. Given Labour had won Rutherglen as recently as 2017, a loss would have presented Starmer with a major headache.
Bookmakers had made Labour the clear favorite to win, with pollsters viewing the district as typical of the kind of parliamentary seat Labour will have to recover if it’s going to reach its target. Just how significant the result is will depend on analysis of the margin of victory, and how that is predicted to play out in other areas of Scotland.
Labour’s optimism in Scotland stems in large part from falling support for the SNP, amid a police investigation into its finances. Rutherglen was also the first major ballot since Nicola Sturgeon, one of the UK’s most popular politicians, stepped down as leader of the SNP and head of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in March.
The election was also called in unusual circumstances after former SNP lawmaker Margaret Ferrier was removed by her constituents for breaking Covid travel rules. The SNP will likely argue that means the Rutherglen result won’t necessarily translate to other districts next year, especially as backing for Scottish independence – the party’s primary policy – remains largely unchanged, with the nation of 5.4 million roughly split down the middle.
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Still, there are signs Labour’s argument that it represents the best chance of removing the Tories from power is cutting through with voters. Research by consultancy Stonehaven published in the Times newspaper on Monday found the SNP could win 25 Scottish seats in the UK Parliament in the next election, compared with 48 in 2019. Labour could win 20 seats in Scotland, compared with just one last time.
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