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SNP ousted in Scottish by-election triggered after member went to church with Covid

by Reuters Journalist

Britain's opposition Labour Party won a bigger-than-expected victory in an election for a parliamentary seat in Scotland on Friday, raising expectations they can unseat Scottish nationalists and go on to win a UK-wide vote expected next year.

The by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton constituency was triggered when the Catholic MSP Margaret Ferrier, who held the seat, attended church with Covid.  The former SNP member attended mass and gave a reading at a church service, while she waited for the test results in 2020. 

She then broke lockdown rules after testing positive, travelling by train from Westminster to Scotland, instead of isolating at a hotel in London, as the rules stated.  She was given a fine, and a 90-day suspension from Parliament, and had the party whip removed.  She later registered as an Independent. She was also charged by police and ordered to undertake 270 hours of unpaid work. Mrs Ferrier urged her constituents not to vote for a by-election and to reinstate her to her role, but she was unsuccessful.

Labour leader Keir Starmer called it a "seismic result".

"People in Rutherglen and Hamilton West have sent a clear message – it is time for change. And it is clear they believe that this changed Labour Party can deliver it,"

Labour candidate Michael Shanks received 17,845 votes, beating the second-placed SNP candidate Katy Loudon, who got 8,399 votes, and marking a swing to Labour from the SNP of 20%.  

John Curtice, Britain's most prominent pollster, said it was a "remarkable result" for the Labour party, which comes on the eve of its annual conference next week.

"By-elections swings on this scale are the kind of swings that, historically at least, oppositions have secured when they're going to go on to win the next general election," he told BBC Radio.

"If Keir Starmer can start winning seats in Scotland his chances of getting an overall majority and avoiding a hung parliament increase quite significantly."

Ferrier was one of a wave of SNP politicians who swept Labour from its one-time Scottish stronghold in 2015.

SNP leader Humza Yousaf said it was a "disappointing night", adding that the "circumstances of this by-election were always very difficult for us" in reference to Ferrier's conduct.

Labour will hope the result marks the start of a political comeback in Scotland. 

It lost all but one of its Scottish seats in 2015 to the SNP as the nationalists retained support of pro-independence voters in the aftermath of a 2014 referendum where Scots voted to stay part of the United Kingdom by 55% to 45%.

The SNP had won the Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat with a majority of 5,230 in 2019.

Polls show Labour could draw level with the SNP or even win the most seats in Scotland for the first time since 2010 after the resignation of long-time SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and a police probe into the party's finances.

(additional reporting by Premier News)

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