THERE’S only really one story in town today in Scottish politics: Labour's not entirely unexpected win in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by election.

There is no denying that the result is a poor one for the SNP and a good one for Labour, but some of the excited coverage of the story in the British media is frankly risible.

This morning Sky News has been breathlessly touting a graphic purporting to show that if the result of the by election were to be replicated at the next general election then the Labour party would almost sweep the board in terms of Scottish seats won, taking 42 of the 57 Scottish Westminster seats up for contention with the SNP being reduced to a rump of 6, the same number as the same Sky News graphic predicts for the Tories.

This graphic is utterly meaningless, serving nothing but propaganda purposes. By-election results are never replicated at subsequent general elections, particularly a by-election in which turnout was as low as the 37.2% reported for yesterday's election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. A responsible news provider should have pointed that out.

The National: The new Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West flanked by Keir Starmer and Anas SarwarThe new Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West flanked by Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar (Image: Jane Barlow)

Indeed, you might say that a responsible news provider would never have indulged in such a graphic to begin with, far less giving it such prominence and failing to present it with the necessary caveats. It speaks of the desperation of the British media to convince itself that what it perceives as the decade long "threat" of Scottish independence has passed and that it's back to British nationalist business as usual. They're in for a big disappointment.

Even the most spectacular by-election swings, far exceeding the 20.4% swing to Labour from the SNP achieved yesterday, are never repeated at subsequent general elections. In 1993 there was a by-election in the Dorset constituency of Christchurch.

The by-election was called following the death of Conservative MP Robert Adley. Then as now the Conservatives had held power at Westminster for many years and there was widespread public anger at a Conservative government which was seen as corrupt, incompetent, and out of touch.

The by-election was won by the Lib Dem candidate Diana Maddock who took the seat with a 34.5% swing from the Conservatives. This was largely due to the fact that Conservative supporters largely did not bother to turn out to vote and Labour supporters voted tactically for the Lib Dem candidate.

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Although it should be noted that voter turnout in this by election was still 74.2% - almost double that recorded in yesterday's by election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

However, despite a swing which dwarfed that achieved by Labour's candidate in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, at the subsequent general election in 1997 the seat was retaken by the Tories who have held it ever since.

The big winner in yesterday's by election was not the Labour Party; it was apathy. Keir Starmer's Labour Party has certainly not sealed the deal with a Scottish electorate which has no great enthusiasm for Starmer's brand of Blairism on steroids.

The Labour vote was boosted by significant tactical voting from the constituency's not insignificant number of Conservative voters, many of whom are of a distinctly orange persuasion. It's a sign of how far to the right the Labour Party has moved that they feel so comfortable voting Labour. The Conservative vote collapsed and the Tory candidate Thomas Kerr lost his deposit.

The National: The SNP's candidate in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election Katy LoudonThe SNP's candidate in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election Katy Loudon (Image: Jane Barlow)

It is unarguable that the SNP failed to motivate independence supporters to turn out and vote for the party. In part, this will have been because they did not for the most part believe that the outcome of a Westminster by-election would have any meaningful impact on progress towards Scottish independence.

In part it will have been a reflection of public anger about the irresponsible behaviour of Margaret Ferrier, although it must be said that she has paid a far higher personal and political price for her breach of covid regulations than senior Conservatives have paid for theirs - we're looking at you Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson.

It was also due in no small measure to a barrage of negative SNP bad media stories recently, even greater in number and intensity than we have grown used to.

However, the main factor in the SNP's failure to inspire the pro-independence vote to come out and support it must surely be a lack of any public clarity about how independence or a referendum can be achieved in the face of the absolute intransigence of the Labour and Conservative parties to recognise the will of the Scottish public as expressed through the ballot box - except that is when it is a result to the liking of the parties of "we're not nationalist, we're British."

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When people do not believe that their vote will be respected or that they are being offered only a supposed choice between one right-wing, Brexit-supporting British nationalist party and another slightly less right-wing, Brexit-supporting British nationalist party, then they are just not going to bother voting at all, and that is what happened yesterday in Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

Hopefully this result will force the SNP to renew its focus on independence as that is the only way in which it can motivate independence supporters to turn out and vote.

A far more muscular and assertive approach is required. Scotland is not going to win back its independence by asking for it nicely. There is still time before the next general election for the SNP to turn things around.

Formulating an independence strategy which can enthuse and motivate a pro-independence support base which remains undiminished will be the key task for the SNP over the weeks and months ahead.