RISHI Sunak at least got one thing right this week. The beleaguered UK Prime Minister hit the nail on the head when he told the walking dead who had gathered at the Tory Party conference in Manchester that the Westminster system was broken.

Everything else he said was nonsense, of course, but then we cannot expect more than one miracle in the same millennium. The diagnosis was correct but the cause of the disease was not, as Sunak insisted, an exhaustion with politics.

It’s an exhaustion with a system infested with corruption, injustice, cronyism, greed and a complete absence of any hope that things can ever get better. And the solution is not to take the same parcel of rogues who got us into this dreadful mess and put them back in charge.

Nevertheless, the Tories are desperately laying the groundwork for their campaign to keep power at the next General Election, despite the fact that every opinion poll suggests the futility of that enterprise. So far Sunak has proved to be an embarrassing failure as prime minister – but he has one big argument in his favour.

His competitors for the job are even worse.

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If Suella Braverman ever gets her hands on the keys to 10 Downing Street, she has made it clear that she will drain the last dregs of moral authority from a government bereft of humanity.

In the most shameful political speech in 2000s Britain, she stoked the fires of racism and division with talk of a “hurricane” of immigration. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps brushed off comparisons between Braverman and Enoch Powell’s inflammatory and dangerous “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, but in some ways it was even worse. Her repulsive statement was made in the context of refugees losing their lives in desperate attempts to find a safe haven. The Tory conference loved it, of course. When it comes to immigration there is nothing too hateful for the Conservative faithful to stomach.

Braverman broadened her attack to include the “woke” beliefs of “the luxury beliefs brigade” who “sit in their ivory towers, telling ordinary people that they are morally deficient because they dare to get upset about the impact of illegal migration, net zero or habitual criminals”.

Under the Tories no hard-won human right is safe. Indeed, the Home Secretary (below) wants to scrap the Human Rights Act which she dubbed the “Criminal Rights Act”.

The National: Suella Braverman this week said trans women had no place in female safe spaces

And there was a stark warning even to those within her own party’s ranks who dared to disagree when London assembly member Andrew Boff was frogmarched out the hall after mild heckling.

The paucity of choice available under the “broken” Westminster system is emphasised by the fact that although the Tories are forecast to lose the General Election, favourites Labour offer little hope of a real alternative.

Scotland is having a sneak preview of that election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, where voters went to the polls yesterday in a hotly contested by-election.

Labour candidate Michael Shanks has disagreed with his party leadership over its refusal to suspend the Tories’ two-child benefit cap if Labour wins the next General Election. He has also clashed with Keir Starmer over trans self-ID – Starmer opposes it although Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar voted for it in Holyrood – and over the scrapping of the bedroom tax, which again Starmer has refused to sanction.

What does it say about Labour’s commitment to progressive policies when it isn’t enough to convince its own by-election candidate? What does it say about the power of Scottish Labour – if there even is such a beast – when its own leader has to change his beliefs and modify his own behaviour on the whim of his boss in London?

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Actually, we don’t need to think too deeply about the answer to that question. Starmer has already made it clear. “Whatever I say will be what Anas says,’’ he told journalists during a visit to Scotland in what was a pretty clear indication of who calls the shots in that particular relationship.

By the time you read this, you will know the result of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. As I write, voters are still going to the polls and it would be foolhardy to try to predict the result at this stage.

Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt it will be reported as an indication of how voters are currently feeling about the SNP and about independence. While there will be elements of truth in those reports, there are some important factors to bear in mind.

By-elections are notoriously difficult for a sitting government to win. Voters are often keen to give that government a bloody nose and in this case there are several issues for which that could be the case. Feelings are running high over various outbreaks of industrial action. Spending cutbacks – very often imposed, let’s not forget, by Westminster, lead to unpopular decisions and it’s not only local councils that bear the brunt.

The cost of living crisis is turning some people against any and all politicians.

Indeed, an article in this paper earlier this week attempting to take the temperature of voters in the constituency found a high level of antagonism towards politicians of all hues – which isn’t the same as apathy.

That hasn’t been helped by the reason the by-election is being held in the first place – the successful recall petition which unseated Margaret Ferrier (below) after she was convicted of culpable and reckless conduct for breaking Covid rules.

The National: The likely by-election campaign in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat of disgraced MP Margaret  Ferrier will highlight all kinds of divisions Image: PA

There is bound to be some level of understandable public anger at a politician breaking rules they themselves were involved in making.

I fervently hope by the time you read this, the SNP candidate Katy Loudon has been announced the winner of the by-election. In fact, I have joined hundreds of volunteers to knock doors in the constituency to help achieve that aim. She was the best candidate and the SNP had the best case to put forward to voters.

If that is the result we should not underestimate the scale of the achievement. Since the constituency was created in 2015, it has been won three times by Labour (2005, 2010 and 2017) and twice by the SNP (2019, 2015). It cannot be considered a safe SNP seat.

Even a relatively narrow SNP defeat/Labour victory would suggest it is too early to write that the SNP are in deep trouble or that Labour’s fortunes have truly revived.

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By-elections do not replicate or predict General Election results. The SNP could survive a loss in a previously safe Labour seat, although there might be difficult lessons to learn.

Whatever the result, where does independence stand? Well, more or less where it has been stuck for some time. Independence support has survived a dip in SNP fortunes but has not yet reached the consistent 60% level which would form the basis of a firm mandate.

The problem remains how we push it to that level without the galvanising influence of an independence referendum. Whether the SNP have won the by-election or not, the party and the wider movement must show that the indy campaign has not gone away but is on the move.

So whether it’s by joining marches (the next AUOB march is in Edinburgh at 12.30pm tomorrow), or taking part in the Chain of Freedom on Saturday, October 14, or putting up a stall in your town centre, or simply by talking to neighbours, it’s our job to do everything in our power to build momentum … starting today.