The First Minister confirmed his party would move the writ for the by-election when Westminster returns for the summer recess on Monday.

Under Commons rules, that means it could be as soon as October 5 or October 12.

Speaking to the media after a pro-independence rally outside Holyrood, the SNP leader said his hope was that it would be on October 5th, but admitted it was “not in my gift”. 

He said the date would depend on the decision of the local returning officer given the possible impact on schools if they are used as polling stations during term time.

The October school break in South Lanarkshire is not until October 16 to 20.

Mr Yousaf said: “The returning officer has to make some provision around schools and so on. I hope it would be on the 5th of October and we will move the writ on the first day.”

The SNP is defending a majority of 5,230 over Labour in the seat which was won in 2019 by Margaret Ferrier, who was ousted in a recall petition over Covid rule-breaking.

Labour is widely expected to regain the seat, which it last won in 2017.

The timing of the by-election cuts across the political conference season.

October 5 falls three days before the UK Labour conference begins, and a Labour win in Rutherglen would allow the party to take a victory lap in Liverpool. 

Labour is desperate to win so that it can claim it is set for further wins in the general election and to argue the SNP’s time in power is running out.

However October 5 also puts distance between a possible SNP defeat and the SNP conference which starts in Aberdeen on October 15.

That could help the SNP use the conference as a “reset” moment, chalking up the result to the extraordinary circumstances which triggered the by-election.

It would be a blow to the SNP if the byelection was delayed until the school holiday on October 19, as it could force activists to miss the conference in order to campaign.

The SNP has fallen foul of a returning officer’s decision before.

In 2021, the Airdrie & Shotts SNP MP Neil Gray triggered a by-election by resigning his seat in order to stand for Holyrood in that year’s election.

The party expected the by-election to be held on the same day and boasted it was saving taxpayers money.

Then Westminster leader Ian Blackford told PMQs: “By doing the right thing, he [Neil Gray] will avoid a dual mandate and a separate by-election that would cost the public £175,000.”

However North Lanarkshire Council’s returning officer decided to delay the by-election until the week after the Holyrood poll, and the SNP was blamed for costing taxpayers £175,000.

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