Keir Starmer has said Labour is close to an “historic victory” in the Rutherglen & Hamilton West byelection and that it would be a milestone on his party’s “hard road” back to power.

On the final weekend of campaigning, the UK leader and other senior party figures did little to disguise their confidence about gaining the seat from the SNP next Thursday.

Addressing a rally in the Burnbank Centre in Hamilton, Sir Keir said a Labour win would send a message to both the SNP and Tory governments that voters wanted change.

He said: “If either of those parties, either here in Scotland or in the United Kingdom, had a record they could stand on they would stand on it. 

“But they can’t because they have delivered nothing, and the more we look at the record of the SNP here in Scotland the more we see a record of failure.”

He said the by-election was “hugely important” and the kind Labour had to win, language that no party leader would ordinarily use unless expecting a positive result.

He said his party was in a “good place to win”.

SNP sources are frank about expecting to lose, with only the margin of defeat in doubt. 

Besides their own supporters staying home, the SNP worry about the sizeable number of pro-Union Tory voters in the constituency voting tactically against them.

Sir Keir told activists: “It’s a big prize here. 

“We all know this isn’t just about this constituency. It’s not just about Rutherglen & Hamilton West, is it? It’s about Scotland. It’s about the future of Scotland. 

“This will be a milestone if we win this election on the hard road back for Labour to power.

“What an incredible opportunity that we have, that road back to power.”

The by-election was triggered by former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier being ousted in a recall petition for breaking Covid lockdown rules in 2020.

Labour see a win as a key test of the party's popularity in Scotland and the UK ahead of the general election expected next year, as well as a potential omen of SNP decline.

Speaking to the media after the rally, Sir Keir defended recent policy U-turns on the two-child benefit limit and not overturning the licence granted to the massive Rosebank oil field.

He also appeared vague about the SNP’s new independence strategy, which regards winning the most seats at the general election as the mandate for separation talks.

Sir Keir said his position was the same as that of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar who accused the SNP of flip-flopping on its policy and being in “terminal decline”.

Labour candidate Michael Shanks said the constituency has effectively been without proper representation for three years, since Ms Ferrier broke the lockdown rules.

He said October 5 was a chance for change and showing Labour had a "path back to power".

Local primary teacher Eileen Donnelly, a lapsed Labour voter who had returned to the fold, told the crowd: “Michael is the change for this area. We need change.”

She said the SNP’s problems in the health service showed why it shouldn’t be in power.

“If they can’t run the tuck shop, why let them run the school?”

Mr Sarwar said a Labour win in the seat would move the “tectonic plates of Scottish politics”.

Humza Yousaf: said Labour were "popping the Champagne corks, putting up the bunting, they are complacent".

However the First Minister admitted: "We've been in government for 16 years. Of course there's challenges. But 16 years in, with probably the most difficult six months my party has faced, we're still leading in the [national] polls."

Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: "We'll always say to vote Conservative. 

"We're saying no to the SNP's independence plans but we're also talking about other issues which really matter to the people here in Rutherglen, cost of living being one of them."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton added: "Liberal Democrats are growing again and my defining mission as leader is to give them a reason to vote for us."