Keir Starmer is set to address Scottish Labour Party conference in Edinburgh as polls predict the party could benefit from Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation announcement.
Starmer will tell the conference on Sunday (19 February) that Labour is ready to “rise to the moment” and provide the change Scotland needs, and will aim his speech directly at potentially wavering SNP voters. Pollsters predict that Sturgeon’s departure after eight years at the top of Scottish politics could cement further divisions in the SNP, allowing Anas Sarwar’s party to recover many of the seats lost over the last decade.
Two candidates have announced their intention to stand to replace Sturgeon so far, with others expected to confirm bids for Bute House in the coming days. Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former minister Ash Regan have thrown their hats into the ring.
‘No deal under any circumstances,’ with SNP
Speaking at conference today, Starmer will reflect on the “change with purpose” he and Anas have made to the Labour Party through their leadership. Much has been made of Sturgeon’s announcement, which shocked Scotland this week, but Starmer is expected to urge the party to be proactive in winning the support of voters.
“We won’t change any hearts or minds by sitting back and watching a battle for power within the SNP,” he will say. “We have to go out there and earn it. Prove that Labour can be the change that Scotland needs.
“It’s not about change at the top of other parties, it’s about the changes we’ve made – from top to bottom - to our own, and the change we can now offer the Scottish people.”
Since taking over as Labour leader, Starmer has been keen to shut off the Conservative attack line which says Labour will only be able to take power by making a deal with Strugeon’s SNP, which likely mean allowing another independence referendum. Now, with Sturgeon leaving office, any such attacks are unlikely to have the same impact .
He will say: “Whatever happens in the coming months my message is the same: no deal under any circumstances. The phony offers of support can end now. The blame game can end now. The unspoken political bond between the SNP and the Tories, the shared investment in division, that ends now.
Starmer believes union ‘is our future’
Starmer will restate his support for the union in his conference speech, and acknowledge that for some independence supporters, the vote is a “way out of Tory Britain”. He is expected to say: “I don’t believe in our union just because of our history, I believe in it because of our future.
“Look at the great challenges we face, the cost-of-living crisis, climate change, standing up to Putin, they’re common across our nations. Sticking up a border doesn’t solve any of them. But we must accept that many Scots look at Tory Britain and conclude the way out is the way forward.
“I want to address those who had given up on Labour directly. And, yes, those who had given up on Britain. I know the people of Scotland want change and hope. Not a showy, grandiose hope. What I mean is the basic, ordinary hope, we used to take for granted. The sort of hope you can build your future around. That aspirations are made of. That was shared by working people across our four nations in good times and bad. The hope that people in Scotland are once again looking to see if Labour can offer.”
Polls predict Labour could capitalise on Sturgeon’s departure
Polling published this week will encourage Starmer and Sarwar that Labour can make up much of the ground it has lost over the last decade in Scotland at the next general election. A YouGov poll put Labour on 36%, with the SNP on 38% and the Conservatives - currently the second party in Scotland - lagging behind on 16%.
One analysis of the polling predicted it would result in Labour picking up an additional 28 seats to become the largest party in Scotland, just ahead of the SNP on 27.
While the fieldwork for this polling was carried out prior to Sturgeon’s announcement, a Savanta poll predicts more modest gains for Labour and the SNP’s support remaining considerably more firm. It has the SNP of 42%, down just one percentage point since mid-December, with Labour up two percentage points to 32%, and the Conservatives down two percentage points to 17%.