Rather remarkably the SNP have in recent days become one of the central talking points of the UK-wide general election campaign, thanks to Conservative attempts to push Labour into ruling out any kind of post-election deal with the SNP. Doubtless the SNP themselves are lapping up the implicit acknowledgement from their opponents that they seem set to do rather well in May. The latest Scotland wide poll published today – from YouGov for The Times – certainly does nothing to undermine that impression.
Today’s poll puts the SNP on 46%, nineteen points ahead of Labour on 27%. That represents a statistically insignificant two point drop in SNP support as compared with YouGov’s previous poll at the beginning of February, while Labour’s vote is unchanged. The one party that does seem to have made a little progress are the Conservatives. At 18% their vote is up three points since early February and is the party’s highest score in any Scotland wide poll since early October – a reflection perhaps of the progress the party has seemingly made in the GB-wide polls in recent weeks.
According to The Times’ own calculations, today’s poll points to the SNP securing 48 seats, Labour 9, and the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (who are still stuck on 4%) just one each. Meanwhile, the effect of today’s poll is to increase the SNP lead in our poll of polls from 16 points to 18. In truth, the SNP’s lead has consistently been at or near that number ever since the beginning of November.
One interesting feature of today’s poll is that it shows separately the answers of those who voted Labour in 2010 and then Yes in the referendum, of whom there are just over 100 in this poll. As Jim Murphy has acknowledged, this group, who represent no less than one in three of all those who voted Labour in 2010, are the principal source of Labour’s difficulties. No less than 81% of them say that they are now backing the SNP, while just 18% are sticking with Labour.
Labour have been trying to persuade this group back into the fold by arguing that losses for Labour in Scotland would make it more likely that the Conservatives remain the largest party at Westminster, and thus perhaps well placed to stay in power. And indeed as many as 61% of 2010 Labour Yes voters believe that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would be at least a little better for Scotland than a Conservative one led by David Cameron.
Trouble is, only a minority of them, 32%, accept that success for the SNP in Scotland would make it more likely that there would be another Conservative government after May. Far more of them (56%) believe that the SNP would be most effective at preventing another Conservative government than believe Labour would (29%), while 64% of them believe the SNP are right to rule out a deal with the Conservatives. It looks as though in the battle of the post-election scenarios the SNP message that they will not keep the Tories in power is largely trumping Labour’s claim that the Tories will retain power if they have most Commons seats.
In any event, what today’s poll also suggests is that Labour needs to do far more to persuade voters of its own merits rather than simply rely on fear of what another Tory-led government would allegedly bring. It is perhaps not especially surprising that most voters believe that the SNP would be best able to give Scotland an effective influence at Westminster (62% of all voters and 85% of 2010 Labour Yes voters hold that view) or indeed that it would be best at securing increased powers for the Scottish Parliament (64% and 91% respectively). Mind you, in the past, Labour have seemingly been able to argue that because it is a potential government at Westminster it could deliver devolution and influence for Scotland in a way that a group of backbench SNP MPs could not, but those days are apparently now past.
But what perhaps we would never have expected to see before now is that voters in Scotland are more likely to think that the SNP MPs would be most effective at protecting the NHS in Scotland. No less than 47% of all voters take that view (just 20% nominate Labour, despite Jim Murphy’s promise of 1,000 more nurses), while amongst 2010 Labour Yes voters no less than 73% choose the SNP. At the same time 59% of all voters (and 66% of 2010 Labour Yes voters) believe that Labour are ‘divided’, whereas just 10% say the same of the SNP. Between them these figures suggest that voters in Scotland are no longer even convinced that Labour is better able to deliver on issues that once appeared to be the heart of its appeal and attraction. It will be difficult to persuade voters to return to the Labour fold if that continues to be their impression.
Still, just in case anyone is under the misapprehension that the apparent prospect of a SNP landslide in May means that the country is now set on voting Yes in another referendum, we should note that today’s poll actually puts the No side slightly ahead in referendum vote intentions (by 51% to 49% once Don’t Knows are excluded). That actually represents a reversal of the position in previous YouGov polls, perhaps because in this poll unlike YouGov’s previous exercises, the proportion who said they voted Yes and No in September does more or less match the actual result.
The SNP may well be on course for a landslide in seats. But if that is the case it is thanks to the relentless logic of first-past-the-post, not because Scotland has significantly changed its mind since last September!