HUMZA Yousaf has admitted SNP supporters staying at home could help Labour win this week’s by-election in Rutherglen & Hamilton West.

The First Minister said the result “could well come down” to getting his party’s vote out, and the final days would see a focus on trying to “motivate them”.

The remarks echo SNP sources conceding in private that their support has weakened in the seat since the party last won it in 2019 with a majority of 5,230.

The SNP have been the underdogs from the start in the byelection which was triggered by former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier being ousted in a recall petition over Covid rule-breaking.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf claims Labour 'taking voters for granted' in by-election

The resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, a bruising leadership contest, money problems and arrests in the police probe into the SNP’s finances have also hit party morale.

Speaking after taking part in a dance class at the Tempo Community Space in Rutherglen, Mr Yousaf was asked about the possibility of losing and said he didn’t hypothecate on failure.

But he went on: “I’ve been involved in many by-elections, some we’ve won, some we’ve lost.

“There’s no doubt that the context of this by-election is challenging.

“There’s plenty of strong support for the SNP. 

“It could well come down to, on the day, making sure that we get that vote out, motivate them, and that’s what we'll be concentrating on in the next few days, that get-out-the-vote operation ahead of Thursday.”

The SNP has never lost a seat in a Westminster by-election and has only lost one Holyrood seat in a by-election, Dunfermline in 2013, after the jailing of wife-beater MSP Bill Walker.

Despite behind-the-scenes gloom in the party, Mr Yousaf insisted he remained “hopeful” thanks to SNP having a “phenomenally good candidate” in Councillor Katy Loudon.

Voters faced a "stark choice", he said. 

"They can either vote for Keir Starmer’s man here in Scotland, or Katy Loudon who will only take her orders from the people of Rutherglen & Hamilton West and stand up for the issues that matter to them, predominantly battling against that Westminster cost of living crisis that has caused so much misery to so many people in this constituency.”

Unspun: The Herald political diary

Mr Yousaf also called for more dignity in SNP candidate selections for Westminster.

The fight in East Kilbride between incumbent MP Dr Lisa Cameron and challenger Greg Costello has seen claims of bullying, tantrums and legal threats in recent days.

Asked if he was embarrassed by the “undignified” situation, the SNP leader said: “Selection contests always, by their nature, can be difficult.

“And I would say to every single one of our candidates who's going for selection, and there are multiple contests up and down the country, let's do in the best traditions of the SNP because people will be focusing on the SNP.

“Let's make sure that we do that in a way that reflects well on the party.”