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A week on Thursday, Scotland was supposed to be having another independence referendum. Nicola Sturgeon told us so last year.

October 19, 2023, she announced, would be the date for the big second vote. Well, it turns out October 2023 had other ideas.

Far from being the moment Scotland voted to leave the UK, this may instead go down as the month Scotland began to turn its back on the Nationalists.

Thursday night’s spectacular defeat of the SNP in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election shows that even independence supporters now want a break from a party that has let them down one too many times.

Over and above everything else, the result will go down as a complete humiliation for the Scottish National Party.

A strained-looking Humza Yousaf in Dundee as he reflected on his party’s calamitous defeat hours earlier 

Only four years ago, 23,775 people in the seat came out to elect Margaret Ferrier as their MP. On Thursday, that number of SNP voters dropped to 8,399.

From packing a decent sized football stadium, to barely mustering enough people to fill an away end: that is the measure of the Nationalist collapse.

By contrast, a well-organised Labour Party got its vote out. It benefited from tactical voting by Tories and Liberal Democrats. The result was an absolute thumping.

No amount of excuses from the SNP about the particular circumstances of this by-election can avoid the blunt truth of it.

Post Nicola, post campervan, post the police tent, post the mess in our public services, ferries, SNP voters in Rutherglen simply posted missing.

They, too, like the rest of us, decided enough was enough. Rutherglen has shown us that the SNP is finally – after 16 years in office – coming face to face with the iron laws of political gravity.

Even in Scotland, it turns out, what goes up must come down.

Stepping back, the disastrous result for the SNP confirms that, in February, when Nicola Sturgeon stunned her party and the country by deciding to quit as Scotland’s First Minister, Scottish politics fundamentally changed.

Her departure opened the lid on the party’s internal divisions which, until then, had been kept from public view.

Under the affable but second-rank Humza Yousaf, the SNP has joined the herd as another tired, unpopular and disjointed governing party whose job is to defend an unpalatable status quo.

No wonder Scots who are fed up with politics, fed up with their quality of life and unhappy about the state of public services feel little wish to support it. The spell has been broken.

Defeats of this size can be self-reinforcing. For just as voters always like to back a winner, so they may think twice about supporting anyone on the back of such a gubbing.

This is especially damaging for an organisation such as the SNP, which has relied so heavily on momentum and ‘vibes’ rather than anything tangible like results or a plan.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the tea leaf readers were immediately out in force yesterday to analyse what this means for the country as a whole.

According to Professor Sir John Curtice, a similar 20 per cent swing away from the SNP in next year’s general election could result in the party losing around 40 Scottish seats.

That really would be a seismic political event. As ever, however, caution should be applied to some of the wilder speculation.

Despite everything, the SNP remains ahead in the national polls by some margin over Labour. At a general election, more of the grumpy Nats who in Rutherglen opted to stay at home will come out to vote. And since the SNP is the only credible pro-independence party to vote for, it can rely on their backing.

Meanwhile, even though soft SNP supporters have little love for life under Humza, it’s also clear they have yet to be convinced by Sir Keir Starmer either. Stung by this defeat, we can therefore expect the SNP to come out fighting.

At the SNP conference later this month, Mr Yousaf will seek to rally independence supporters to support The Cause. He will attack Sir Keir Starmer as representing phoney change.

The SNP is far from over. The challenge for Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems is therefore to keep the accelerator down.

They must further expose the SNP’s dismal record in government, pointing out how the failure to make hard decisions in office is now resulting in the decline of our NHS and public services. And they need to craft a positive alternative for the country.

All Scotland’s pro-Union parties say they want to see change in the way the UK works. They need to explain to people in Scotland what that change really means.

Rutherglen shows the door is open. It has proven that erstwhile SNP voters have fallen out of love with their party of choice. It has shown that the SNP can no longer rely on their votes.

As we head towards the general election next year, the SNP’s opponents need to be able to answer the question as to why these people should change their minds – and their votes.

Achieve that and we will look back at October 2023 as the moment the Scottish tide turned. Not towards the end of the UK, but towards the end of the SNP’s long grip on power.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

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