ON the doorsteps of a quiet residential street in Hamilton, it’s clear there’s still support for SNP despite the party’s recent difficulties.

“Go give them a beating,” one man tells Humza Yousaf and SNP candidate Katy Loudon, who are visiting the area on the campaign trail for the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election.

Another shouts out the window of a top-floor flat to call the politician back after realising he has missed a door knock. “I hope you win the by-election,” he says.

The polls, however, indicate this could be a major challenge, with Labour the favourites to take what is a relatively marginal seat for the SNP.

READ MORE: Robert Jenrick's comments come back to haunt him as Home Office faces pressure

This constituency has always been a key battleground between the two parties, changing hands at each of the past three General Elections. But this time the pressure has been ramped up.

For Yousaf, it’s his first major electoral test as new leader of the SNP. Meanwhile Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar are in need of a convincing win for Labour to boost their hopes of winning an overall majority at Westminster.

SNP candidate Loudon (below), a former primary school teacher and councillor for Cambuslang East, acknowledges it is an important by-election – but adds “we fight every election to win”.

The National:

“I wouldn’t be standing in this election if I thought I wasn’t the best person to represent this constituency,” she says.

When it comes to how she intends to take on Labour, she tells the Sunday National the main push of the campaign is going to highlight the “fag paper” of little difference between the party and the Tories, because of the number of U-turns by party leader Keir Starmer.

Labour candidate Michael Shanks has been trying to distance himself from the UK party’s policy positions, saying he does not agree with the two-child benefit cap and that he still sees the UK as “having a place in the EU”.

Loudon says: “It’s been extremely interesting to watch and it’s something people are keen to speak to us about as they’re picking it up as well, the Labour candidate is flip-flopping all over the place at the moment.

“I don’t envy the job he has trying to hold what he says are personal positions – he doesn’t believe in this and he would personally vote against the two-child cap, he would vote against the bedroom tax, he would want to rejoin the EU – maybe at some point in the future.”

She adds: “If he had the opportunity to be the MP, he wouldn’t then have the opportunity to vote down the two-child cap, or to vote down the bedroom tax, because those votes are simply not going to take place if there is a Starmer government. He would obviously be whipped to vote for the party.

“It’s not a position he’s going to be able to maintain – to say vote for Labour so that you can have a Labour representative who will then vote against Labour.

“That makes no sense to me. Whereas if you vote for me and you vote for the SNP, we’re going to do what it says on the tin.”

It’s a message that the SNP are trying to hammer home on the doorsteps, with activists going out twice a day to knock doors and talk to constituents.

Most people seem to know there is an election in the area looming, undoubtedly helped by the high-profile events which saw former MP Margaret Ferrier losing the seat through a recall petition triggered after she breached Covid rules.

Maureen Chalmers, SNP councillor for Blantyre, who is helping co-ordinate the doorstepping visit in Hamilton, says there is a lot of attention on the by-election and activists from all over the country are being urged to help out.

READ MORE: Alyn Smith writes to Home Office over detained Stirling student

“It’s a big area. So we’ve got Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Blantyre and then a chunk of Hamilton,” she says.

“That’s three of our branches that co-ordinate the activity, so it’s the branch organisers that keep in touch and see what day we can do, what suits our team best.

“Everyone supports each other. If you’re doing something in Cambuslang say, as many people as possible would go and join in from other areas. So everyone joins in.

“Because it’s a by-election, there’s a call out for whoever can come and support from across Scotland, so at the weekend particularly you get extra folk coming in.”

Among those helping out for the day is university student Michael Donaldson, 19, from West Calder, who is youth branch officer for SNP Fauldhouse and Breich Valley,

“Here is where the battle is right now,” he says.

“Our branch and other people around West Lothian have been through quite a bit just trying to offer support – get soldiers on the ground as much as we can.”

Donaldson says Brexit has been the biggest driving factor in his support for Yes.

When asked what independence would mean for him, he says: “Opportunity is the biggest one for me – the idea of being able to live and work in Europe is massive.”

Zach Wedlock, 16, from Larkhall, who is leafleting for the first time, says his support for the SNP also stemmed from Brexit.

“I was only nine but I just thought how can one country like Scotland be denied their will to be in the EU? That’s when really I got political with independence,” he says.

On the doorsteps in the Burnbank area of Hamilton, it’s not all support for the SNP. One man declines to even take a leaflet from an activist.

Another answers his door happy to chat, but while he supports independence, sets out from the start that he is a lifelong Labour voter.

Yousaf presses him on his views of Starmer and whether he is sceptical of him. It seems to hit a nerve with hints he is not entirely decided and a follow-up visit is planned.

At another home, a woman cuts short a phone conversation with her daughter to chat. She is an SNP supporter – but says she is undecided. Yousaf sets out the argument that only the SNP will stand up for Scotland, while Loudon gives her pitch as candidate.

She is impressed they are visiting in person, noting she has only seen a canvasser from Labour so far.

These are the voters the SNP will have to win over to hold on to the seat – as well as get their own supporters turning out to the ballot box on election day.

When it comes to the prospect of potential victory, Loudon plays down the significance of Rutherglen and Hamilton West – which has often been seen as a “bellwether” for the winds of political change, as a battleground for the General Election to come.

“Of course it would be very significant, but as a candidate I’m not focusing on the national picture,” she says.

“My priority is very firmly local and it’s about doing the best job to represent the people in the constituency.”

Yousaf (below) acknowledges the by-election will be a “difficult one” for the SNP – but says he is “confident and hopeful”.

The National:

He says: “People are not taking well to a Labour Party that have already decided they have won this by-election, taking the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West for granted, being extremely complacent about this by-election.

“We will not show a single ounce of complacency.”

He adds: “Many have written us off in this by-election – I certainly haven’t, I’m confident and hopeful we’ll retain this seat for the SNP.

“I don’t think the obituaries that people have written about the SNP are going to come true at all, let alone in this by-election.”