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by Louise Wilson
05 July 2024
Scottish Labour has been victorious – but Anas Sarwar must beware the dangers

Labour has the momentum but it could still be a difficult battle for Holyrood | Alamy

Scottish Labour has been victorious – but Anas Sarwar must beware the dangers

The SNP has taken a walloping.

Few people – not even the eternal optimists in Scottish Labour – thought last night would go down as it did. Even when the exit poll dropped at 10pm, many eyebrows were raised. Just ten seats for the SNP? I certainly didn’t believe it.

Yet as it stands, the SNP sits on nine seats (albeit with one seat still to declare which might ensure they at least break into double digits) while Scottish Labour is sending 37 MPs to the House of Commons.

Not only that, but the party is up 17 percentage points overall. They added over 330,000 votes to their 2019 performance, while the SNP dropped by half a million. In the end the result was much less close than anyone, including the pollsters, expected.

A senior Labour source told Holyrood that while the party had hoped – even been optimistic – about replacing the SNP as the biggest party, but this margin was beyond their wildest dreams.

What is does not mean, however, is that the SNP’s time at the top of Scottish politics is over.

The momentum is now with Anas Sarwar and his party, to be sure, but voter intention polls for the Scottish Parliament frequently put both parties neck and neck – somewhere around 30 per cent.

And before the 2014 independence referendum tipped the scales massively in the SNP’s (and Conservatives’) favour by ensuring the constitution dominated the election cycle, the Scottish electorate was pragmatic about who it backed at each election. It would certainly not be unusual for many Labour voters this time around to slip back to the SNP in two years’ time.

Let’s face it. Beyond anything else this general election was about kicking the Conservatives out of Downing Street. That is true across the UK, but importantly that message carried weight in Scotland too.

UK elections are a difficult sell for the SNP because they’ll never be in UK Government. But that arithmetic is different when it comes to choosing the Scottish Government.

And before Scots decide whether they have more permanently found their political home in Scottish Labour, they will want to see the UK Government deliver. The problem is, two years is not a lot of time for Keir Starmer to create the change he’s promised. At least not on the scale that is wanted, and particulary not against the present financial backdrop.

He referred to it himself outside Number 10 today. “Changing a country in not like flicking a switch. The world is now a more volatile place. This will take a while,” he warned the nation.

Unfortunately for Sarwar, his party does not have “a while”.

And so while there is a definite advantage to having an ally in the prime minister – not least because it ends the SNP’s main attack line of getting rid of the Tories – it could be a double-edged sword. If change doesn’t happen fast enough, Scottish Labour could be punished for that at the polls.

In part it all depends on how much voters will still want to punish the SNP too.

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