Scottish by-election test for Labour as Covid MP Margaret Ferrier loses seat in recall

Scottish by-election test for Labour as Covid MP Margaret Ferrier loses seat in recall

Keir Starmer is to face another by-election test within weeks after former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier was stripped of her seat over a breach of Covid lockdown rules.

More than 10 per cent of her constituents in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, near Glasgow – a key Labour target seat – voted to “recall” her following her suspension from the House of Commons.

The outcome of the by-election will be closely observed as a potential sign of how the parties will perform in Scotland in next year’s general election.

Traditionally a Labour seat, it fell to the SNP in recent elections but with Hamza Yousaf’s party struggling in the wake of the scandal over its finances and Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, Sir Keir’s party will expect to win it back.

Ms Ferrier was suspended from the SNP, which means she would have to stand as an independent if she wants to retake the seat.

The ‘recall’ comes after she travelled twice between England and Scotland in September 2020 despite testing positive for coronavirus.

Her decision to take a train from Glasgow to London and back with Covid symptoms was denounced at the time as “reckless and dangerous”.

She also went on to speak in the Commons, even while awaiting the outcome of a Covid test.

In a statement to Sky News following the result, she said it had been a “difficult and taxing process” and she did not want to “prolong it further”.

“I respect the outcome of the petition,” the statement said.

“It has been the privilege of my life to serve as the member of parliament for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. I have always put my job and my constituents first, and I am disappointed that this will now come to an end.

“I decided some time ago that I would not stand in the upcoming by-election. This has been a difficult and taxing process that has now come to its conclusion and I do not wish to prolong it further.

“I would like to thank my team for their loyalty and continued dedication to supporting me in delivering for my constituents.”

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: “The people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West have made their voices heard and demanded change.

“For far too long the area has been failed – let down by two incompetent governments and left voiceless in Parliament by their rule-breaking MP.”

Mr Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, said the circumstances in Rutherglen and Hamilton West would be “challenging” for his party, but that it nevertheless has “solid support.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: “Margaret Ferrier’s constituents have delivered a very clear verdict on her reckless and selfish actions at the height of the pandemic.

“Of course, this by-election would have happened a lot sooner if she had done the right thing and resigned as an MP straight away. Instead, she brazenly stuck it out to the bitter end, which was a total insult to her constituents who made huge sacrifices during Covid.”

Ms Ferrier was handed a 270-hour community payback order after admitting culpably and recklessly exposing the public “to the risk of infection, illness and death”.

Following a lengthy parliamentary probe into her actions, she was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days in June.

It will be Scotland’s first recall by-election. A total of 11,896 voters in Ms Ferrier’s constituency signed the petition to trigger a fresh contest.