Labour's dramatic win over the SNP at the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election shows that Scottish independence is not a priority for voters, Sir Keir Starmer has said. 

Speaking to journalists at a victory rally for Michael Shanks, the constituency’s new MP, the Labour leader said the scale of the win in the South Lanarkshire seat took the party a step closer to forming the next government. 

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Mr Shanks won 17,845 votes, more than 58% of all cast, with the SNP’s Katy Loudon a distant second on 8,399.

There was a 20.4% swing from the SNP to Labour.

Meanwhile, the other 12 parties in the race - including the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - all took less than 5% of the vote, losing their deposit. 

The Herald:

Asked if the win meant he was on course to form the next government, Sir Keir said: “It is a big step in the right direction and an important one, this was a must-win for us. And the size of the win, I think vindicates the positive campaign that we ran here.

“But we accept this humbly. This is a step on the journey. We've made the case for change here in Rutherglen and we need to make the case for change across the whole of Scotland and earn all of the votes.

“As I have said, many, many times, the route to a Labour election win at the next general election runs through Scotland because if I'm privileged to serve I want to be the prime minister for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just of the United Kingdom.”

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The campaign was boosted by a huge number of activists flocking to the constituency to canvass for Mr Shanks, including 144 on the final weekend. 

Sir Keir said that reflected the “real energy” in the party at the moment. 

“When you see a political party that is galvanising lots of people to come out and campaign for it, that's a political party that's on its way up.”

He denied that the money thrown into the campaign was why Labour triumphed. 

“It was the positive case here that won it. People wanted to come out and vote Labour and that hasn't happened for a very long time. For the first time they've been able to look at a changed Labour Party that can win the general election and bring about change. And that is hugely, hugely important.” 

He said the result was a vindication of the work that he and Anas Sarwar have done together, since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard. 

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Asked what the vote meant for the prospect of an independence referendum under a Labour government, Sir Keir said he was “not going to be sidetracked by the arguments of others.” 

He said: “We are the party that believes very strongly in the union, not just for the very many historical reasons that everybody supports the union and or should support the union. 

“But also because if we look at the challenges of the future, it is obvious to me that we will face those challenges, whether it's climate, whether it's the economy, whether it's conflict, we will face them better as four nations together.” 

“I think the independence referendum is the last thing that anybody should be focused on,” he added. “We just had a campaign over a number of months, knocking on I don't know how many thousand doors, how many thousand conversations, and the number one issue is the cost of living crisis, followed very swiftly by the state of public services, particularly health.

“They are the key priorities. And when I set out the five missions of an incoming Labour government, if we're privileged enough to serve, they are the absolute focus of what we hope to achieve in government, and we're not going to get sidetracked by the arguments of others. 

“The SNP has got its priorities completely wrong. And I think that's been reflected in the vote yesterday.”