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The Labour party has hailed its overwhelming victory in a much-watched by-election in Scotland as proof that it is heading for Downing Street, after a 20-point swing that Sir Keir Starmer said “blew the doors off”.

After Labour exceeded expectations with almost 59 per cent of the vote in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, pollsters said the result could give the party the chance of winning dozens of seats in Scotland in a general election next year.

“You blew the doors off,” Starmer told Labour members at a victory rally in the seat, near Glasgow. “Because we’ve changed, we are now the party of the change here in Scotland, we’re the party of change in Britain, the party of change right across the whole country.”

At this week’s Conservative party conference Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sought to portray himself as an agent of change, despite his party’s 13 years in office, with promises to shift spending from high-speed rail to other transport projects, reform education and clamp down on smoking.

But the scale of Labour’s success in the Rutherglen vote boosts Starmer as he heads into his own party’s conference in Liverpool, which starts on Sunday.

Labour’s Michael Shanks won 17,845 votes, or 58.6 per cent of the vote, with a 20 percentage point swing that will increase confidence that his party can end the dominance of the crisis-hit Scottish National party.

The pro-independence SNP’s Katy Loudon received 8,399 votes, or 27.6 per cent, in a seat that the party won by more than 5,000 votes in 2019. The Conservatives’ share collapsed to 3.9 per cent. Turnout was 37.2 per cent.

In a further potentially worrying sign for Sunak, a YouGov poll for The Times on Friday indicated that the Conservative party conference had failed to make any dent in the Labour party’s 21-point lead across the UK.

The Rutherglen by-election was sparked by the ousting of former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier for breaking Covid-19 rules in 2020.

Sir John Curtice, leading pollster and professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said that if Labour’s performance was replicated across Scotland in a general election, the party could win 42 seats north of the border, having dropped to just one before its victory on Thursday.

“The Labour party will be able to justifiably claim that this is the kind of result that suggests that [it] is potentially capable of winning seats again in Scotland,” Curtice said.

The outcome is a heavy blow for the SNP and its leader Humza Yousaf, whose time in office has been dominated by a struggle to stabilise a party assailed by divisions and an escalating police investigation into its finances since the resignation of his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon in March.

Yousaf said the “circumstances of this by-election were always very difficult” for his party and pledged to “reflect” on what it needed to do to regain voters’ trust in Rutherglen. “We lost this seat in 2017, and like 2019 we can win this seat back,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Labour was heavily backed in betting markets to retake the seat, given the crisis in the SNP and voters’ anger at the actions of its former MP. But the scale of the victory was a surprise, Curtice said.

Labour previously indicated that it hoped to win more than 20 Scottish Westminster seats next year, which would boost its chances of defeating Sunak’s Conservatives.

Labour held a majority of Westminster seats in Scotland until 2015, when its share of the vote collapsed after an independence referendum held the previous year. While Scots voted in favour of staying in the UK, the result galvanised independence voters under the banner of the SNP, which has dominated Scottish politics since.

Thursday’s outcome means Yousaf faces a difficult conference when his party members gather in Aberdeen next week. The party last month suspended veteran MSP Fergus Ewing, an outspoken critic of its co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens.

Turmoil in the SNP deepened after Sturgeon, Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive who is also her husband, and Colin Beattie, its former treasurer, were arrested this year as part of a police probe into the party’s finances.

All three were released without charge pending further investigation. Sturgeon has denied any wrongdoing.

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