This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Labour has it all to lose.

Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar can go into the summer recess looking quite smug as the party gears up for a general election campaign on a high.

Labour has not known this type of confidence, especially in Scotland, for some time.

But is the election, to be held before the end of next year, Labour’s to lose?

The first test for whether Labour is ‘back’ in Scotland could be the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. Although still not confirmed to be taking place, Labour has been on the campaign trail in the constituency for several weeks, months even, sniffing success.

But a failure to win that seat would fire a substantial hole into the party’s glowing ambitions.

Sir Keir has picked his priority for snatching the keys to Downing Street and it appears to not include Scotland in a meaningful way.

Now this may not be an intentional move, it may be because he is confident Mr Sarwar can strike a chord with voters north of the Border or it could be a huge calculated gamble.

Despite rosy polling numbers for Labour in Scotland, the party is not necessarily on an uninterrupted path to victory north of the Border.

The favourable polling with voters could be temporary, caused by the troubled SNP over its finances while there is plenty of time for Labour to be rocked by its own scandal before voters go to the polls.

But two factors appear to be more permanent challenges for Labour in Scotland.

The most obvious question mark for Labour is Brexit.

The SNP are unsurprisingly already pointing out to voters that Labour does not back rejoining the EU with a narrative that the party under Sir Keir wants to simply make Brexit work.

UnspunNorthern Ireland provides a warning for Scotland about the polarisation of politics

The pro-Brexit stance is likely to be effective in parts of northern England, traditional Labour seats that were wooed by the promises of the Brexit campaign. But it could fall flat on its face in Scotland, where the majority of the public, particularly those who could vote Labour, do not welcome the UK leaving the EU.

Another potential problem for Labour is Sir Keir himself – who is garnering a reputation for changing his mind and taking a page out of Tony Blair’s book of steering Labour to the right in order to appeal to more voters.

It was notable at Labour’s recent energy launch in Leith that Sir Keir’s long-winded speech on the big policy announcement, was outshone by both former UK Labour leader Ed Miliband and Mr Sarwar who both spoke passionately and personally about the party’s strategy.

The Herald: Labour leader Keir Starmer was considered upstaged by Ed Miliband and Anas Sarwar at the party's energy launch in LeithLabour leader Keir Starmer was considered upstaged by Ed Miliband and Anas Sarwar at the party's energy launch in Leith (Image: Newsquest)

When Sir Keir was in Edinburgh last December for his devolution launch, it was Gordon Brown’s passionate speech that stole the show.

Senior Labour sources say that the party is not getting carried away with the polls.

A Panelbase poll last month for the Sunday Times suggested that Labour could come ahead of the SNP in a general election in Scotland for the first time since 2010.

The study claimed Labour could secure 26 seats compared to the SNP’s 21 – and that poll is not an outlier.

One senior insider said that estimates Lab could pick up as many as 30 seats in Scotland is a benchmark the party is “nowhere near”, with the 15-seat mark seen as a more realistic aim.

The source added that the party in its current leadership and makeup is in uncharted territory, with an unfamiliar need to “manage expectations”.

It seems incredible to already be talking about the next general election, which could be more than a year out, as being Labour’s to lose.

But there is a buzz about Labour, particularly on a UK level.

The party appears to be cutting through with voters on the cost-of-living crisis and fears over mortgages.

It’s important to remember that Labour only has one MP in Scotland, Ian Murray.

But as Mr Sarwar has been pointing out since he became the leader of Scottish Labour in 2021, the first ‘red wall’ that his party lost was Scotland, not the north of England.

Without Sir Keir acknowledging this, the party could face a challenge to keep hold of the support it currently has north of the Border.

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