VOTERS in Rutherglen and Hamilton West go to the polls next week to elect a new MP after the constituency's former MP Margaret Ferrier was ousted.

She was sacked by her constituents last month in Scotland's first recall petition, a measure which can be used by the House of Commons to sanction MPs for wrong-doing.

The petition was triggered when Ms Ferrier was suspended from the Commons for 30 days in June after she was earlier convicted of breaching Covid restrictions.

At a hearing in August last year at Glasgow Sheriff Court she admitted that she culpably and recklessly exposed the public to risk of Covid-19 infection and was sentenced to undertake a 270-hour community payback order.

The MP admitted she broke lockdown rules by travelling on a train between Scotland and London after failing to self-isolate in September 2020 and wilfully exposing people "to the risk of infection, illness and death" by visiting various places in the Glasgow area and London.

She was elected as the SNP's MP for the constituency in 2015 and 2019, but lost the SNP whip in September 2020 and latterly sat as an independent. Labour took the seat in 2017 and are campaigning hard to win it back.

Here are key issues that will help determine the outcome of the poll on October 5.

1. Protest vote against the SNP.
With the SNP in power for 16 years at Holyrood, the poll could be seen by locals as a chance to give the Scottish Government a "bloody nose". Voters may see the election as a means to send a signal to the governing party at Holyrood that they are not happy about a range of issues in their lives - NHS waiting lists, school strikes, council tax bills, the cost of living - and that the administration in Edinburgh could be doing more to tackle these matters. It will be the first Westminster by election too since the troubles hitting the SNP since Nicola Sturgeon's resignation and police probe into the party's finances escalated. In an interview earlier this month with the Herald on Sunday, the SNP's candidate Katy Loudon admitted the issue had come up on the doorsteps and said it had been "a difficult few months". Labour, which took the seat in 2017 and was second to the SNP in 2015 and 2019 will be hoping to capitalise on the SNP's woes. 

2. Protest vote against the Conservatives.
Alternatively, the election may be seen as a way of protesting against the Conservatives in power at the UK level.
Labour are hoping the poll will be a prelude to their party regaining power at Westminster and Sir Keir Starmer becoming Prime Minister at the general election expected before the end of next year. Part of their message to voters is to vote for them to remove the Tories from government after what will be 14 years. However, the SNP have taken issue with the Labour argument and counter it by saying the way to remove the Conservatives 'for good' is by voting for the SNP and backing a vote for independence.

3. Tactical voting.
With the by-election widely viewed as a two horse race between the SNP and Labour, how will supporters of other parties vote?
The was considerable tactical voting in some seats during the Holyrood election in 2021. Labour's Jackie Baillie, for example, benefited from a large number of Tory voters switching to Labour in her Dumbarton seat. 
In 2019, 8,054 people backed the Conservative candidate while 2,791 voted for the Lib Dems. Will the votes for these parties hold up or could some of them switch?
Tactical voting by Tory and Lib Dem voters would benefit Labour, with the party taking 18,545 votes at the 2019 general election coming second to the SNP's 23,775.

4. Voter turn out.
There are concerns in the SNP that its activists and MSPs have not been rushing to campaign for the party ahead of the October 5 vote.  Last week there were reports that the party had to resort to paying canvassers to do the leg work around the doors that would normally be embraced by enthusiastic party members; this week it emerged the SNP's chief whip at Holyrood Rona Mackay ticked off MSPs for not heading out on the campaign trail. The obvious question to ask is, if the party's own MSPs and activists are reluctant to turn out to speak to voters, will the party's supporters turn out to vote or could many end up just staying at home? Voter turnout in the constituency in 2019 was 66.5%, will that figure be replicated next week? There are also concerns about new rules requiring voters to bring official ID to the polling station. Could the new requirement also lead to few people voting or to people being turned away?

5. Cost of living.

Who will voters trust more on the cost of living, Labour or the SNP? The former party has been campaigning with the message that the SNP may hike the cost of living more with Scottish Government plans underway to increase the council tax by between  7% to 22.5% for householders living in higher band properties. The SNP counter Labour's arguments by saying the policy would raise more money for vital council services by making the system fairer, placing more financial burden on people living in more valuable properties. The party also says it would bring in a bill to remove the two child benefit cap, which limits some welfare benefits parents can claim to two children, thus easing the pressure on poorer families.

6. Brexit and independence.
The SNP have been campaigning heavily against Labour on Brexit, accusing Sir Keir Starmer's party of now falling into line behind the Conservatives on support for leaving the European Union. Some 63% of voters in South Lanarkshire voted to remain in the EU back in 2016 and in a press statement last month the SNP's candidate Katy Loudon House of Commons library figures showed the business in the area had lost "a staggering" £146 million worth of EU imports and exports since Brexit as well as almost £10 million in direct EU funding. However, with uncertainty about how the SNP would take Scotland back into the EU and when, and what the border arrangements would then be with the UK, it is unclear to what extent Labour's position not to reverse Brexit will influence voters' behaviour.