It was once the subject of banter for critics of the Conservatives to jest that there were more pandas in Scotland than there were Tory MPs. This very mockery could have been redirected towards the Labour party in the recent years. However, the winds of fortune are shifting.
Following an overwhelming triumph in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Sir Keir Starmer has matched and is poised to surpass the renowned ‘panda threshold’ in Scottish politics. Currently, Edinburgh Zoo has two pandas in residence and shortly, with the arrival of Michael Shanks at Westminster, there will be an equivalent number of Scottish Labour MPs within the UK parliament.
This is not the zenith of Labour’s aspiration. Sir Keir is keeping his eyes trained on the forthcoming UK general election, anticipated to take place either in Spring or Autumn next year. At the prospect of further advancements in Scotland, Sir Keir sees a clear path towards Downing Street.
His jubilation was doubled when the Conservatives fell from a 15% vote share in 2019 to a meager 3.9% in the most recent by-election. The Conservative candidate, Thomas Kerr, ascribed his underwhelming performance to the tactical voting strategy that constituents employed to convey their dissatisfaction with the SNP. Regardless, Labour emerged the undisputed victors.
Historically, a string of predecessors at the helm of Labour, from Harold Wilson to Gordon Brown, relied heavily on significant Scottish backing in their campaigns to form a government. From 1964 to 2010, Scotland consistently sent a strong delegation of 40 or more Labour MPs to Westminster. If the swing seen in Rutherglen and Hamilton West were to be nationally replicated, the party could once again relive its halcyon days.
Despite the significant strides Labour has made, the path to power remains arduous. The party has a long way to reclaim prominence in Scottish politics, following its shocking setback in the 2019 Westminster election where it finished fourth with a solitary seat.
Labour’s struggles over the past decade have been largely attributed to its resistance to Scotland’s departure from the 316-year old union with England. However, by adapting their campaign strategies in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, to primarily focus on policies pertaining to public services and the economy, Labour’s success signifies a watershed event.
Meanwhile, matters within the SNP camp have only contributed to Labour’s uprising. An ongoing police investigation on the SNP concerning questionable finances, as well as the shocking resignation of former leader, Nicola Sturgeon, have significantly affected the SNP’s standing among voters. Adding to SNP’s woes is the former MP, Margaret Ferrier’s violation of lockdown rules which led to her expulsion from the party, a criminal conviction, and culminated in her removal from office.
Despite its encouraging progress, Labour faces a long, challenging path ahead. The support for Scottish independence, largely driven by the SNP, continues to hold strong at approximately 48%. Hence, as a unionist party, Labour finds itself in a conundrum. This challenge is further compounded by dissenting opinions within the parties’ ranks on key issues such as welfare benefits and gender.
To that end, SNP is biding its time, hoping Scottish voters will re-evaluate their preferences after experiencing governance under both the Conservatives and Labour, and potentially lean towards independence.
With the iconic Edinburgh pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, scheduled to return to China, the oft used ‘panda comparison’ metric for political failure will soon become obsolete. However, in the context of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, this reference of infamy is likely to dog the SNP. As for a new metric to gauge political failure? Only time will tell.