• Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Scottish voters to back Labour this time: Report

Labour ruled the roost in Scotland for decades, but that changed in 2015 when the support soared for the pro-separatist Scottish National Party

Labour leader Keir Starmer and his Scottish counterpart Anas Sarwar attend the launch of the Scottish Labour general election campaign at Caledonia House on May 24, 2024 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

By: Shajil Kumar

IN Glasgow, voters at July 4 general election are poised to desert the Scottish National Party and re-establish Labour in its former fiefdom, setting back Scotland’s bruised independence movement.

Out shopping on Dumbarton Road in the Partick area of Scotland’s biggest city, 26-year-old trainee lawyer Suzie Green said she and her peers planned to cast ballots for Keir Starmer’s main opposition party.

“Labour really is the only option in Scotland if you want to see change,” she told AFP.

May McCraw, 83, was also excited about the prospect of Labour returning to power in London after 14 years of Conservative rule dominated by austerity, Brexit and infighting.

“I’ve supported them all my days. It’s just the way we were brought up,” she said.

Labour ruled the roost in Scotland for decades on the back of strong support among working-class and industrial communities, particularly in the central belt that encompasses Glasgow and the capital Edinburgh.

That changed at the UK election in 2015 when the party was virtually wiped out north of the English border as support soared for the pro-separatist SNP. Scotland sent only one Labour MP to Westminster at the last nationwide vote in 2019.

But polls suggest the party could win scores of Scottish seats on July 4 as Labour rides a wave of antipathy towards Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservatives across the UK.

Feelings of disdain among the electorate towards the SNP after 17 years in charge of the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh is expected to boost Labour’s vote share in Scotland.

SNP support slumps

With polls suggesting Labour could overtake the SNP as Scotland’s largest party, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was in a bullish mood when AFP met him on a campaign stop in Midlothian, just outside Edinburgh.

“Every vote for Scottish Labour is a vote to make sure we get rid of the Tories, to put Scotland at the heart of a Labour government, and to deliver the change our country needs,” he said.

Support for the SNP has slumped amid a finances scandal that saw Peter Murrell, the husband of Scotland’s former leader Nicola Sturgeon, accused of embezzlement. Murrell is the party’s former chief executive.

Sturgeon herself was arrested, but released without charge.

Current leader John Swinney only took charge last month following the resignation of Humza Yousaf after the collapse of the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens in Edinburgh.

Critics have also accused the SNP of neglecting key issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, education and health.

Billy Steele, a 55-year-old Glasgow cafe worker, said he intended to vote SNP because he wants Scotland to be independent. But he would be comfortable with Labour taking most of the six Glasgow seats from the SNP.

“I don’t have a problem with it if it gives the SNP the kick up the bum they need to focus on day-to-day stuff,” he said.

The SNP won 48 seats in Scotland in 2019. A recent YouGov poll suggested it might only win 18 of Scotland’s 57 constituencies this time around, although other polls give it more.

“We know it’s all to play for,” Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, told AFP, putting a brave face on his party’s chances as it launched its manifesto in Edinburgh this month.

“What you need to be is confident about your message and we’re very confident about our message under John Swinney’s leadership.”

Independence

Swinney has pledged to start negotiations for another independence referendum if the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats next month — an unlikely prospect.

Labour and the Conservatives insist the issue was dealt with at the 2014 referendum when 55 percent of voters in Scotland opted to remain part of the UK.

Despite the SNP’s slump, the number of Scots favouring independence has held at around 40 per cent, according to surveys, providing the SNP with some comfort.

Labour hopes a strong showing in Scotland will propel it towards taking charge in Edinburgh at the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2026 for the first time in two decades, pushing the idea of independence further down the road.

A lot will depend on how Labour performs in government, according to Glasgow University politics lecturer Jonathan Parker.

“If they provoke some dissatisfaction from Westminster then we could see it (the independence issue) coming back rather sooner,” he said. (AFP)

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