THE Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election “is about independence”, the First Minister has insisted, as he set out a “stark choice” for voters at the SNP’s campaign launch.

South Lanarkshire councillor Katy Loudon joined Humza Yousaf at the launch event in Rutherglen, where the pair set out their stall to voters.

Earlier, Scottish Labour launched its campaign with candidate Michael Shanks and deputy leader Jackie Baillie.

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The FM said that independence is the only “surefire way” to scrap cruel Tory policies and that it is needed “now more than ever”.

Following the SNP’s independence convention in Dundee, the party is set to hold a series of summer regional assemblies before voting on the final General Election and independence strategy at the party’s conference in October.

The by-election was called after a successful recall petition removed Margaret Ferrier from her role as an MP, and is set to be a battle between the SNP and Labour for the seat.

With the by-election expected to be held in October, Yousaf was asked how he will persuade voters to back the SNP’s independence plan when it hasn’t been finalised.

The National: Yousaf and Loudon took part in a dance class at the launch in a community centreYousaf and Loudon took part in a dance class at the launch in a community centre (Image: Colin Mearns)

“Look, you can talk about the process all you wish, I think it's very simple,” Yousaf told journalists on Wednesday.

“People can either decide to send a Labour MP, who is part of Keir Starmer’s party will do as Keir Starmer says, that is back the child limit, back the bedroom tax, or they can have an SNP MP and I hope in the not too distant future to have a vote on Scottish independence, so we cannot just mitigate cruel Tory policies but scrap them altogether.

“That’s the message we will be taking, independence is needed and now more than ever before, because you now don't just have a Tory party that's inflicting harm.

“But in Keir Starmer, a prospective prime minister who's saying he’ll keep many of those same crue policies in place.

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“So independence is the only escape from those cruel policies plunging tens of thousands of children into poverty.”

Asked to clarify if a vote for Loudon in the by-election is a vote of support for independence, rather than a vote for an independence referendum, Yousaf said: “It’s a vote for independence, but that's the General Election, that was the line for the General Election.

“When we have a General Election and we have that manifesto, if conference agrees, line one, page one, will be that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence.

“This by-election, very simply, I think in simple terms, yes is about independence, because independence is the only surefire way to scrap cruel Tory policies.

The National: SNP candidate Katy LoudonSNP candidate Katy Loudon (Image: Colin Mearns)

"But equally it will be a stark choice for people in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, you vote for an SNP MP that stands up for the country, stands up for your constituency, or your vote for a Labour MP that backs Keir Starmer’s position on the two-child limit and the bedroom tax.”

Pressed if that meant that independence wouldn’t be at the heart of the local campaign, the FM replied: “Independence will be part of the campaign. I’m part of the SNP, believe it or not independence is a part of every single campaign that we have.

“And as I have already said, independence is the only surefire way of getting rid of unelected governments and unelected Conservative governments, but it's also only the surefire way of scrapping not mitigating but scrapping cruel policies like the two child limit and the bedroom tax now that Sir Keir Starmer has decided to back them to the hilt.”

Elsewhere, the FM fielded a number of questions on Ferrier, who was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days in June, triggering the recall petition process.

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Ferrier travelled from Westminster to Scotland after testing positive for Covid in September 2020, later having the SNP whip removed when her Covid-19 rule-breaking was revealed.

In September last year, she was handed a 270-hour community payback order after admitting culpably and recklessly exposing the public “to the risk of infection, illness and death”.

The 62-year-old resisted calls to resign from her seat and urged her constituents not to sign the petition.

Ferrier's presence still loomed large over the campaign launch, with journalists asking SNP candidate Loudon when she last spoke to her former colleague.

The National: The successful recall petition removed Ferrier as an MPThe successful recall petition removed Ferrier as an MP

“The last time I spoke to Margaret was when the story broke, I had been in touch with her then and offered her some support at that time to ask if she was okay, and to state my position at the time,” Loudon told journalists.

Asked if that meant she hadn’t spoken to Ferrier since 2020 and had therefore “cut ties”, the FM interjected and added: “Katy’s answered that, we have all, before Margaret did what she did, of course campaigned alongside Margaret, had friendships with Margaret, but everybody recognises how reckless Margaret’s behaviour was, but this is not about Margaret.

“This is about the future of the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West.”