Leader: Starmer sets resurgent Labour’s sights on SNP after by-election victories

Sir Keir Starmer delivered his speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow yesterday not only as party leader but as the man almost certain to succeed Rishi Sunak as prime minister after a general election later this year.

Labour is now in full possession of that most treasured holy grail of political strategists – momentum – following big swings from the Tories in by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood last week.

With Mr Sunak’s Conservatives in disarray, a Labour victory to end more than 14 years of Tory rule is now almost beyond doubt, with only the scale of that victory in question.

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Sir Keir told delegates yesterday “Labour isn’t Labour without Scotland” as he accused the Conservatives of having been a “faithful ally” of the SNP in keeping his party out of Downing Street.

Just as few would bet against Sir Keir becoming the next prime minister, Labour is all but certain to increase its tally of Scottish MPs from two – it is only a question of by how many.

After 17 years in power, the SNP is, like the Tories, very much on the back foot, falling behind Labour in the polls.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar last week ridiculed the difficulties Humza Yousaf’s SNP has faced in responding to his party’s resurgence.

He told delegates the SNP strategy appeared to have shifted several times from former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to treat the next general election as a “de facto” referendum on independence.

Polls suggests Sir Keir’s assertion “Scotland should send more than a message to Westminster, it should send a government” has traction.

“Send a message? With all the problems that this nation faces, that is the level of [Mr Yousaf’s] ambition for Scotland – send a message,” Sir Keir said. “Conference, I’m afraid this is the story of the SNP now. They’re not interested in fixing Scotland’s problems, they want to exploit them.”

Labour is likely to inflict a heavy defeat on the Tories and damage the SNP in a general election this year. The SNP will then have a fight on its hands to retain power at Holyrood.