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by Molly Finlay
02 August 2023
Rutherglen and Hamilton West: A major electoral test for both Labour and the SNP

SNP leader Humza Yousaf on the campaign trail with candidate Katy Loudon

Rutherglen and Hamilton West: A major electoral test for both Labour and the SNP

The SNP’s Katy Loudon and Labour’s Michael Shanks will duke it out for the highly contested South Lanarkshire constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West after a successful recall petition ousted Margaret Ferrier.

The seat has changed hands three times in the last decade and is a significant battleground for the two parties.

In 2015, Margaret Ferrier ended 51 years of Scottish Labour’s Westminster dominance by taking the seat for the SNP as part of their record election result.

Two years later, though, the seat returned to Labour hands. But that victory had more to do with a reduced turnout for the SNP – winner Ged Killen actually secured fewer votes than Labour’s candidate (then incumbent Tom Greatrex) in 2010, while Ferrier’s vote dropped by almost 12,000.

Come the 2019 election, the SNP managed to draw out voters once more. Ferrier won again, with a majority of 5,230.

Local councillor Loudon is faced with holding the seat for the SNP at a time of intense turmoil, while Labour hope to snatch the seat with their candidate.

Further back in the poll predictions are the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who secured 15 per cent and 5.2 per cent of the constituency’s vote respectively during the 2019 general election.

Ferrier, having been removed from office, could technically stand again as an independent, though she has confirmed she will not.

Ferrier refused to resign from her seat after being found to have breached Covid restrictions and has served as an independent MP since the SNP removed the whip in the days after her rule-breaking surfaced. 

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has welcomed the by-election, confident it will give Labour a chance to take back the contentious seat ahead of the next general election. He and UK leader Keir Starmer have visited the seat on a number of occasions in recent months.

The by-election will be the first electoral test for First Minister Humza Yousaf, and is considered a significant trial run for both the SNP and Labour ahead of the next general election.

So what of the constituency itself? Situated in Greater Glasgow, it’s an urban seat which contains commuter areas into the city of Glasgow. A former centre of heavy industry, its historical coal mining industry died out as far back as 1950.

Significant swathes of Rutherglen and Hamilton West are highlighted as some of the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland. In 2020, parts of Rutherglen such as Whitlawburn and Springhall were ranked in the top five per cent for deprivation in the entire country, according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Since then, the whole country has been faced with rising inflation and cost of living. Sharon Hampson, the local Citizens Advice Bureau manager, reported they were seeing “an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis in Rutherglen and Cambuslang”.

In a plea to her (now former) constituents, Ferrier previously wrote on her website: “While parties have already spent months arguing about their candidates for a by-election that has not even been confirmed, they have disregarded the very real issues faced by many in our community”.

In the 2022 South Lanarkshire Council election, the town of Rutherglen was the SNP’s poorest performing area, reflecting the discontent of local constituents. Nonetheless, the SNP continue to perform well in national polling and remain ahead of Labour.

In 2014, the constituency was split down the middle on Scottish independence, offering little clue as to whether this will play into this by-election.

Bookies currently put Labour as the favourites to win it. But as ever, the only numbers that count are the votes on polling day itself.

As Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Ballie said: “It's of huge significance to us, it's of huge significance to the SNP...and it is really going to be a contest between the two.”

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