THE Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election is a chance for voters to “send a message to Westminster”, the SNP’s candidate has said.

As the hotly contested campaign headed into its final week, Katy Loudon, a local councillor in South Lanarkshire, sat down with the Sunday National to reflect on a gruelling campaign.

She told how locals have a chance to tell Keir Starmer that his party’s shift to the right “isn’t good enough” as well as rejecting harmful policies, such as Brexit and austerity, imposed by the Tories.

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Both Unionist parties are not being “honest” with voters, she said, detailing how the cost of living crisis was the number one topic on doorsteps across the community.

It comes after the SNP candidate faced fellow candidates Michael Shanks, Labour, and Thomas Kerr, Tory, during a televised STV debate ahead of the final week of campaigning.  

Loudon told how she’s determined to be a local champion for the area, having been a councillor since 2017.

“The message we’re trying to get out is about the voters sending a message,” Loudon said.

“It’s sending a message to Westminster, it’s rejecting Brexit, it’s rejecting austerity. It's about electing somebody like myself for the SNP who’s talking about real cost of living support.

The National: Winnie Ewing at the Commons

“Not in the future, not whenever there’s a change of government, if there’s a change of government, if there’s a general election, but now, folk going into the winter they need the £400 energy rebate. That’s my message.”

The historic Hamilton by-election win by legendary SNP politician and independence campaigner Winnie Ewing (above), taking the seat from Labour in 1967, sent “shockwaves” through the country, Loudon said, adding she hoped voters in the area would take the chance to “send a message again” by backing her over Labour’s candidate Shanks.

“It's partly to Westminster, but it's also very much to Keir Starmer because this isn’t good enough,” she added.

The 43-year-old, who represents Cambuslang East on the local authority, said that it had been interesting to watch the “tension” between the UK Labour leader and Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar play out on the campaign trail, but said it was no surprise as she had seen that “top-down approach” play out in the council chamber.

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“Labour are trying to keep up this pretence that they are anything other than a branch office here,” she said. “We know where the orders are coming from.”

A few weeks ago, the local SNP group received “stark and shocking figures” about the number of families receiving emergency foodbank parcels in the local area surging by a third - but when Loudon and fellow local representative Andrea Cowan tried to raise the issue during a council meeting, they were “shut down” by the Labour group.

“They just don’t want to hear it,” she said.

“If it’s not 'SNP bad', it’s not 'Scottish Government bad', they don’t want us to talk about it.

The National: SNP candidate Katy Loudon

“They don’t want us to talk about what the Scottish Government have put in place, the fact that they’ve managed, with one tied behind our back in the SNP and the Scottish Government, to lift 90,000 children out of poverty.”

There is a disconnect in both parties, Loudon said, from the reality of constrained budgets and the inability of Unionist politicians to accept that the Scottish Government having the “full levers of power financially” would make a huge difference.

“There’s two prongs to it,” she said. “They won’t let us talk about the reasons, they are too scared to admit that this is to do with Brexit, and it's to do with the Tories crashing the economy.

“The reason Labour are too scared to admit that is because they don’t have a leg to stand on.

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“They’ve hardened their stance on Brexit, they’re quite happy to let that continue.

“They know about the cruel Tory policies that are causing misery for families just now, and they would let that continue. They don’t offer any opportunities there.”

The other prong, Loudon added was the “sheer incompetence of the Tories” which is causing a great deal of frustration.

“In council, we’re shut down from talking about that, and that’s not being honest with voters, it’s not being truthful," she said. 

The National: Craig Ho, left, and Thomas Kerr campaigning in Rutherglen

“We’re hearing that on the doorstep as well, they [Labour] can run around and give this empty rhetoric about fresh starts and new opportunities, all of the rest of it, there’s nothing, there’s no policy.”

One of the big issues grabbing headlines in Scotland amid the final days of the campaign is the ongoing school strikes.

School support staff in 24 local authorities staged a three-day walkout over pay. Schools across the country were forced to close after Unison members took industrial action. Cosla has repeatedly said that the latest offer is final, with two other unions, GMB and Unite, advising members to accept the deal on the table.

As a former teacher, local councillor and Westminster candidate Loudon said she didn’t feel as if she was in an “odd position” amid the pressure being put on the Scottish Government to find the funds to pay for the increase.

“Especially because of the people who are striking at the moment, we’re talking about schools are closed,” Loudon said.

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“I know how schools run and how they run well and it's because of the whole school family, it's because of all of the staff working together and they do an incredible job.

“I completely understand why anybody is striking just now because we’re all in the same position, we’re all feeling the pinch from Westminster.

“We’re all worried about energy, fuel, mortgages, rent, everything else, so I completely understand.”

Speaking hours after a Unison hustings between by-election candidates, Loudon said it was ”frustrating” that her Labour counterpart showed a “complete lack of honesty” about where the financial problems come from.

The National: Michael Shanks and Anas Sarwar

“I’m always going to stand up for more local government funding, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a councillor if I didn’t and that’s a cross-party position in Cosla as it should be,” Loudon said.

“The reality is, that money’s not there and neither Labour nor the Tories can come along to hustings or TV debates or whatever else and shout at me about it, but they’re not prepared to say where the money should come from.

“The reality is the money needs to come from the Scottish Government having full levers of power financially to be able to create a thriving, happier, fairer, greener, wealthier society.”

Loudon voiced clear frustration at Scotland’s lack of “freedom” to implement the policies that would improve conditions for those living in the local area, and criticised the “empty rhetoric” from the Tories and Labour over funding.

“There’s so much potential, there’s so much opportunity, but people aren’t being given a free crack of the whip at the moment,” she said.

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“That’s why we need independence, it’s not only that I love this constituency because it's my wee bit of Scotland, and it's home.

“I know how great it is, I know how great it could be if folk had that extra bit of help, and we need independence to do that.

“We’re not going to get that with pro-Brexit, pro-austerity Labour or the Tories, we need away from the lot of them.”

Voters will go to the polls on October 5 to choose their next MP, with a staggering 14 candidates to choose from.