Scotland is key battleground if Labour is to win an election landslide

Keir Starmer at St Fergus Gas Terminal, near Peterhead, on November 17, 2023  (Getty Images)
Keir Starmer at St Fergus Gas Terminal, near Peterhead, on November 17, 2023 (Getty Images)

Voters in Scotland will have a key role in paving the way to Downing Street for Sir Keir Starmer – or helping Rishi Sunak to block his path.

The Prime Minister is due north of the border on Thursday afternoon, where he will campaign alongside Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

The Conservatives came second in Scotland in 2019 behind the SNP, winning seven seats and 25 per cent of the vote.

But a Labour resurgence is expected to leave the Tories stranded in third place. Each Scottish constituency seized by Sir Keir will contribute to the landslide he needs nationally to form the next Government.

According to election experts, Sir Keir needs a swing of 12.7 points from the Conservatives to become Prime Minister – larger than the 10.2 point swing that brought New Labour to power in 1997, and more than double the swing at any other election since 1945.

Torcuil Crichton, a former Westminster-based journalist standing for Labour in the Western Isles, told the Standard: “Every five seats that Labour wins in Scotland reduces the 12.5 per cent swing by one point. If we win 10 seats, he needs a 10.5 per cent swing, and so on.

“Keir Starmer needs a bigger swing than Tony Blair won when he became Prime Minister. It’s a huge swing, but we have everything to play for.

“We’re confident but lots of seats are going to have very tight margins. You can’t underestimate the populist appeal of nationalism or the fact that the SNP, despite all the chaos in their ranks, have been in power for longer than the Tories.”

Boundary changes mean that Scotland will return 57 MPs, down from 59 at the 2019 election.

At present, the SNP has 43 seats, the Tories seven, the Lib-Dems four, Labour two and Alex Salmond’s Alba party two. One seat, Western Isles, is held by an independent, the former SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

One recent opinion poll put Labour support in Scotland on 35 per cent and the SNP on 29 per cent, suggesting it could be reduced to 11 MPs.

Labour could claim as many as 35 seats, though that is seen as a best-case scenario and would require a collapse in SNP support.

John Swinney, who replaced Humza Yousaf as First Minister and SNP leader earlier this month, said the Tory Government had done "enormous damage" to Scotland.

He is angry that the election will take place during the school summer holidays in Scotland, which happen several weeks earlier than in England.

Polling expert Sir John Curtice said the timing of the election came at a difficult time politically for the SNP.

He told the BBC: "They have just replaced their leader and John Swinney is hoping to turn things around. At the moment the party is running about five or six points behind Labour north of the border."

Mr Ross said the election was a "huge opportunity to defeat the SNP" and end their "obsession" with Scottish independence.

The Lib-Dems also hope to make gains from the SNP, in particular in the Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross seat that was previously held by the party’s former leader Charles Kennedy until 2015.