For the next few days at least, the eyes of the Scottish political world will be diverted from the referendum campaign towards the prospects and performances of the parties in the elections to the European Parliament. Mind you, the referendum will not be off the boil for long; interpretations of what the results mean for the referendum debate are likely to be commonplace.
We secure some guidance as to the possible outcome from two polls of European voting intentions in Scotland published today, one from ICM Research (for The Scotsman) and one from Survation (for the Daily Record).
Both tell much the same story. The SNP is reckoned to be on 36-37% of the vote and thus is apparently heading for its best ever performance in a European election (previously 33% in 1994). That should be enough to ensure the party wins three seats, one more than at present. Such an outcome would undoubtedly do no harm to morale in the Yes camp.
Labour’s support is estimated to be 26-27%, well up on the (very poor) 21% it won at the last Euro elections in 2009. It will, however, be far short of the 43% that the party won in 1994, the last time that European elections were held when the party was in opposition at Westminster. The party’s representation would remain at two seats.
The Conservatives are running at 13% in both polls, down four on 2009, Indeed such an outcome would represent the party’s worst ever result in a Euro election in Scotland. The party’s marginal status in Scottish politics would once again be underlined, although the party would keep its one seat.
The Tories’ Westminster coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, seem unlikely to enjoy even that consolation. Their support is estimated at 6-7%, or little more than half what is required to be sure of winning a seat. With UK wide polls putting the party’s support at much the same level, the party’s current Scottish MEP, George Lyon, is likely to be one of many a Liberal Democrat MEP who will pay the price for the perceived follies of their Westminster colleagues.
Much attention south of the border is focused on how well UKIP will do, and in particular whether they might manage to top the poll. Estimates of their strength vary considerably from one poll to the next.
Neither question arises north of the border. Today’s Scottish polls put the party at either 9% or 10%, some three points or so short (but no more than that) of what they are likely to need to claim a seat. That though would still be nearly double what the party achieved in 2009.
If UKIP do indeed manage to come first across Britain as a whole, but fail to pick up a seat in Scotland, the Yes campaign can be expected that this shows how very different the values of Scotland from those held by voters south of the border – and thus illustrates why Scotland should seek to govern itself.
Today’s ICM poll suggests this argument may have some traction. As many as 18% say they would be more likely to vote Yes in September if UKIP come first across Britain as a whole, while just 8% say they would be more likely to vote No as a result. In truth, most of these respondents are people who say they are going to vote Yes or No anyway. Only 4% of current No voters say they would be more likely to vote Yes. Still a few of those who are undecided how to vote in September may be swayed by such an outcome; 19% of them say they would be more likely to vote Yes while just 4% state they would be more likely to vote No.
The SNP’s principal allies in the referendum debate, the Greens, have hoped to profit from the Liberal Democrats’ misfortune. In practice it appears not to be providing much of a boost. The party is estimated to be on 6-7%, in line with the 7% it secured last time around.