Last month Lord Ashcroft published polls of voting intentions in 16 individual constituencies in Scotland that showed the SNP ahead in all but one, Glasgow NE, the seat with the largest Labour lead over the SNP anywhere in Scotland. The findings seemed to confirm extrapolations made from Scotland-wide polls that suggested the SNP were on course to knock down almost every Labour citadel in Scotland, and thereby perhaps become the third largest party at Westminster after May 7th.
However, most (though not quite all) of the seats in which the noble Lord polled on that occasion were located in those parts of the Scotland where the Yes side won in the referendum. That, perhaps, left open the possibility that the SNP tidal wave was not so strong in places where the Yes campaign had not been so successful.
That suggestion is, however, knocked on the head by a second tranche of Scottish constituency polling that Lord Ashcroft has released this evening. Of eight seats covered by this latest exercise, five are in Labour held seats where the Yes side lost – Ayr, Dumfries, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh SW, and Kirkcaldy. He finds that the SNP are ahead in four of them, including in Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy seat, which had the second largest Labour lead over the SNP in 2010. Only in Jim Murphy’s East Renfrewshire seat are Labour put narrowly ahead – by (a statistically insignificant) one point.
On average the SNP vote is estimated to be 26 points higher in these seats than it was in 2010, well in line with the 25 point Scotland-wide increase estimated by our current poll of polls, and only a little below the average 28 point increase in SNP support registered in the 14 Labour held seats covered by Lord Ashcroft’s previous exercise. In short, the SNP tide appears to be more or less every bit as strong in No voting Labour areas as it was previously shown to be in Yes voting ones.
Equally, Labour’s vote is down on average by 19 points in the five seats it is defending in today’s batch of polls, little different from the 20 point drop in the previous Ashcroft polling. Both drops are higher than the 13 point fall currently registered in our Scotland wide poll of polls – but that should not surprise us because in some seats in Scotland the party is sufficiently weak that it has little more than 13% of the vote to lose in the first place.
Two such seats are the Liberal Democrat held constituencies of West Aberdeenshire and Ross, Skye & Lochaber, which are also included in the latest polling. Here Lord Ashcroft suggests the Labour vote is down by just four and six points respectively. But that does not mean the SNP tide is any weaker. With its vote up by 23 and 25 points respectively in these two seats, the party is in fact apparently well ahead in both.
In truth it has been widely thought that Charles Kennedy’s local popularity might enable him to defend his Ross seat successfully, whatever his party’s electoral difficulties elsewhere. However, even though Lord Ashcroft invited his respondents to think about who they wanted to back in their particular constituency, a line of questioning that adds 10 points to Charles Kennedy’s tally, his vote is still down by as much as 18 points on 2010, leaving him five points behind the SNP. The Liberal Democrats have invested a lot of faith in the ability of their MPs to avoid the worst consequences of their party’s dire electoral position as a result of those MPs local popularity. But today’s polling reminds us that even when that popularity exists, it may not be enough to enable an MP to hang on to their seat.
Meanwhile, if the Conservatives think they can afford to gloat about Labour’s troubles, they should think again. For, as some projections from Scotland wide polls have suggested, the SNP advance could also sweep away the only Tory seat north of the border. Lord Ashcroft has also polled in David Mundell’s Dumfriesshire seat, and here too the SNP vote is apparently up by as much as 23 points. Together with a four point drop in Mr Mundell’s support, this means the Tories and the SNP are estimated to be tied on 34% each. That is far too close for comfort so far as Mr Mundell is concerned.
Doubtless, with its spring conference due to take place this weekend, Labour will try to redouble its efforts to turn the position around. But today’s polling also reveals two problems that could well undermine its hopes of doing so.
First, the SNP, with its recently heavily inflated membership, is more visible on the ground. In each of the five Labour held seats covered by today’s polling, more people say they have been contacted by the SNP than by Labour, in some cases as much as by a factor of two to one.
Second, the message that voters need to vote Labour to get rid of Cameron looks cuts little ice with many SNP voters. Even though only 12% of SNP supporters in the eight seats covered by today’s polling say they are satisfied with Mr Cameron’s performance as Prime Minister, only 38% would prefer to see Mr Miliband in his place. As many as 33% of SNP supporters say that while they are dissatisfied with Mr Cameron’s performance they would still prefer him to Mr Miliband. Invoking dislike of Mr Cameron does not look as though it will be enough to enable Labour to turn the position around.