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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour Is Poised To Work "Too Good To Be True" Opportunity Of Nicola Sturgeon Resignation

Gordon Brown, Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar (Alamy)

3 min read

Labour figures have expressed optimism about the party’s prospects in Scotland following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, but leadership is being urged to take the chance to “get their message out” and steer the conversation away from Scottish independence.

Sturgeon announced on Wednesday that she would step down as Scottish National Party leader and First Minister, after more than eight years in charge. Labour leader Keir Starmer was among senior Westminster figures who offered Sturgeon good wishes, thanking her for “dedication and passion” she had shown in her leadership.

But he was quick to seize on the opportunity to capitalise on the exit of the UK's longest serving leader in recent years, who has overseen a significant surge in support for the SNP to eclipse the previously prominent Scottish Labour. 

“Labour stands ready to be the change that Scotland needs,” Starmer added. 

Scottish Labour is holding its annual conference this weekend in Edinburgh. One campaign source told PoliticsHome that the mood is optimistic and Sturgeon’s departure marks “an opportunity” for the party to “get their message out” and focus on issues away from the independence question ahead of the next election. 

“It couldn't have come at a better time for us, it almost feels too good to be true in that respect,” they added. 

In the last decade Labour has lost swathes of Westminster seats across Scotland, dropping down to just one seat at the 2019 general election, down from 41 nine years earlier. 

The Labour campaign source said that the economy and the NHS are now the top issues on the doorstep in Scotland, with independence "rarely" getting a mention. 

The Conservatives, led by Douglas Ross, are currently the second largest party in the Scottish parliament, with 31 MSPs compared to Labour’s 22. 

A Conservative source close to the Scottish party also felt that Sturgeon's resignation “emboldened” the unionist movement across all Westminster and Holyrood parties.

They told PoliticsHome that their “gut instinct” was that Sturgeon’s departure presented an opportunity for the party to find their identity in Scotland away from opposing independence. 

“Nicola Sturgeon, although [Scottish Conservatives] disagree fundamentally with her, she's a very savvy political operator, and she runs absolute rings around Westminster. 

“And I think that a lot of the unionists would admit that,” they said. 

However, the source suggested that one criticism they have heard from swing voters or unionists is that “the Conservatives in Scotland have based their identity on ‘we’re not the SNP and we will always say no to a referendum’," meaning detail of their wider policy message is otherwise unclear. 

“It’s the same as with Labour in Westminster – you’re not the Conservatives, but is that enough?“ they added. 

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