Euan McColm Euan McColm

Is Stephen Flynn’s seat really at risk from Labour?

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

In public, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party is all humility. Starmer might currently be heading towards a general election landslide victory but the line is consistent: The party’s taking nothing for granted. Privately? Well, one of two of the party’s candidates and strategists might concede they expect things to go rather well for them on July 4. Quite a few will admit they expect a landslide.

In Scotland, confidence among the Labour lot is so strong that they have their eyes on a win that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. The Times has reported today that Labour fancies its chances of unseating the SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn in Aberdeen South. Polls currently show Labour leading the nationalists by 10 points and so a certain degree of optimism might be permissible but, in 2019, Flynn won by more than 20,000 votes while Labour’s candidate came fourth with fewer than 4,000. I detect in the Times story a desire by Labour spinners to wind up Flynn — rather than any genuine belief that they can unseat him.

In fact, if Labour really wants to get rid of the SNP’s Westminster boss, the party should be encouraging its supporters to get behind the Conservative candidate. The Tories came second last time and have a better chance of ending — or pausing — Flynn’s career than Labour does. And anyway, Labour has never done particularly well in the north of Scotland where, for decades, the nationalists, the Liberal Democrats, and the Tories carved up the electoral spoils. This remains mostly true this time around, too. Sir Keir’s party could cause an SNP wipeout in the central belt — but it isn’t expected to take many Scottish seats in the North and North East.

But while Flynn can probably afford not to take Labour’s threat too seriously, he has every right to be rattled. SNP leader John Swinney — dragged out of semi-retirement to save his party after a year of chaos under Humza Yousaf — has revealed himself to be a politician of previously undiscovered incompetence. His decision to launch a fierce public defence of former health secretary Michael Matheson (now part-way through his 27-day Holyrood suspension and 54-day salary ban after his £11,000 iPad scandal) angered and baffled SNP general election candidate and MSPs. Rather than bringing his party together, Swinney has caused fresh turmoil. Sometimes he appears to be leading so badly that it’s like he’s doing it for a bet.

If Flynn returns to Westminster (as he should because the numbers are still just about on his side), he will be leader of a much diminished SNP group. The nationalists are expected to lose seats across Scotland’s central belt. Not so long ago, it was unthinkable that the SNP — for so long a party of rural Scotland — would ever win seats in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Now it is the incumbent in key constituencies.

Perhaps those Labour spinners weren’t completely on the wind-up. After all, if the SNP could take seats from Labour in its Glasgow heartland, perhaps Labour can return the favour in the SNP’s Highland and rural bases. For that, however, the party will need to finesse its oil and gas message a little more.