A jubilant Sir Keir Starmer has told Labour party activists they “blew the doors off” to secure a landslide byelection victory over the SNP.
Labour candidate Michael Shanks secured a 20.4% swing to trounce the SNP’s Katy Loudon and become the new MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West – an election triggered by the removal of former MP Margaret Ferrier (SNP) for breaking Covid rules.
Even sweeter for Starmer and Labour supporters was the disastrous Conservative result. Their support collapsed with candidate Thomas Kerr failing to secure his deposit after polling so few votes – 11% down on the previous election.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the result marked a “seismic night in Scotland” proving “Scottish politics has fundamentally changed”.
Commenting on the SNP and Conservative led administrations in Holyrood and Westminster, Sarwar said voters are sending “a very clear message that they are sick of two tired, failing, incompetent governments”.
He said the result is “a clear indication that Scotland will lead the way in delivering a Labour government” for the whole of the UK.
Labour’s Shanks secured 17,845 votes to take 58.6% of the vote– a huge increase from the 34.5% achieved in 2019. The SNP vote fell from 44.2% in 2019 to just 27.6% (8,399 votes) while the Conservatives were left licking their wounds after seeing their candidate secure just 3.9% of the poll, down from 15%.
Analysts said Labour would win more than 40 seats from the SNP in the next election, if a similar swing is achieved at the next general election.
Addressing party supporters in Rutherglen this morning (October 6) after confirmation of the massive Labour victory over the SNP, Starmer said: “They said that we couldn’t change the Labour party, and we did it. 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!”
The SNP needs to carry out an “urgent post-mortem” into what went wrong in Rutherglen, the party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said. He admitted to BBC Radio Scotland that Labour benefitted from SNP voters switching and added that his party needs to do more to respond to the cost of living crisis.
“I don’t think you need to do any focus groups to realise that people are skint,” said Flynn.
Meanwhile, Starmer has ruled out a border poll on the question of Irish unity if he becomes prime minister – an apparent breach of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
The Labour leader told BBC News NI (Northern Ireland), “I don’t think we’re anywhere near that kind of question,” when asked about a future referendum on Irish reunification. “It’s absolutely hypothetical. It’s not even on the horizon.”
Under the terms of the GFA the Northern Ireland secretary is bound to call border poll on Irish unification if it “appears likely” a majority would be in favour of it. The same poll would be replicated in the Irish republic.
Last month Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar predicted a united Ireland within his lifetime. The debate over a border poll referendum on the issue has intensified following Brexit and the rise of Sinn Fein in elections across the island.
“I believe we are on the path to unification. I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime,” said 44-year-old Varadkar.