Thursday the 6th of May will see millions across the UK cast votes in devolved, mayoral and byelections, with what is being heralded as “Super Thursday” by politicians and journalists alike. The day’s results could have huge repercussions for confidence in Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party and Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom.
Most of the media attention in England is focused on the Hartlepool by-election, in which a Labour MP has been elected in every election since 1964. This time, however, Labour is expecting a huge defeat, with internal sources suggesting that less than half of previous Labour voters will be backing the party on Thursday. Starmer has now been Labour leader for a year and half since Corbyn’s resignation after the December 2019 election, promising to earn back the trust and respect of the “Red Wall”, which Johnson emphatically shattered. Therefore, Hartlepool exemplifies the effectiveness of Starmer’s message over the last 18 months, and Labour’s media campaign has raced to dull down the significance of these elections as they begin to expect another defeat. In the middle of allegations and investigations into Tory sleaze, and the frequent mishandling of coronavirus over the last 12 months, much of the public, Labour voters and MPs are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of accountability Johnson is being held to. It appears that the success of the government’s vaccine rollout has provided many voters with political amnesia of Johnson’s mistakes, and a reason to overlook the more recent claims of corruption. Starmer has sought a compromise between the more progressive wing of his party and the traditional, pro-Brexit de-industrialised North, but with what seems to be worrying limited success. With a snap general election being predicted by many with knowledge in Whitehall, the Labour Party will have to improve its messaging if it is going to dent Johnson’s 80 seat majority. With over 10 years of Conservative governance already, the British democratic system needs an opposition with which Johnson must compete.
However, the Scottish Parliament elections are of far more significant consequences, and concerning, to the Conservative government. If Sturgeon’s SNP gets an outright majority, requiring 65 seats, the UK government would be almost unable to squash calls for a 2nd Independence Referendum. These elections, unlike Hartlepool’s, are on a knife-edge. The SNP has seen their approval rating slowing, after a drop throughout 2021 in wake of internal investigations and enquiries into Sturgeon’s handling of the Alex Salmond sexual harassment allegations. Meanwhile, Labour and the Conservatives have seen a small rise, increasing the pressure on Sturgeon and the SNP. There are two main constituencies to watch. Dumbarton, which is currently held by Scottish Labour, is being targeted by the SNP which is yet to win the seat. The marginal seat will be reflective of Labour’s fortunes elsewhere in the country. And Secondly, Glasgow Southside, Nicola Sturgeon’s seat and safely within SNP grasp, is for the first time in the history of British politics being contested by another party leader, in Labour’s Anas Sarwar. Sarwar is claiming that Sturgeon has neglected her constituency and is keen to provide more accountability of the SNP as they become increasingly powerful in Scottish politics. With Sturgeon already piling on the pressure to Westminster, on account of Scotland’s decision to stay within the European, a democratic mandate through a majority in the Holyrood elections would magnify the calls for a 2nd referendum. If she fails, Johnson can breathe a deep sigh of relief, for there is little chance that a man so ostentatiously proud of his British identity will let Scotland go cheaply. If he is to quell the SNP’s momentum, Johnson will have to make sure Scotland feels as though it is a valued member of the Union.
A cold Thursday in early May could have huge implications on British politics for the next decade and will be followed closely by the media and political establishment. Stay tuned to The London Centrist for analysis in the coming days.