The Scottish Daily Mail has an interesting poll on Holyrood voting intentions.
It’s actually got findings on much more and I’d recommend you pick up a copy of the paper or check out the digital subscription deals here.
Before we go any further, it’s just one poll, remember the margin of error, and the next Holyrood election is four years away. Everything that follows assumes these facts so let’s have some speculative fun anyway.
First, the headline figures. The SNP is on 42% on the constituency vote (down 4.5% on 2016) and 31% on the regional poll (down 11%). We already know the SNP has lost significant ground, as witnessed in the General Election.
What Survation’s numbers tell us is that Nicola Sturgeon has failed to halt the decline. The fieldwork (1016 Scots interviewed between September 8 and 12) was carried out after the First Minister announced her Programme for Government. Survation polled key planks of the PfG and produced some findings that will not be welcome in Bute House — see the Mail for a breakdown.
Of course, Sturgeon will keep pressing the ‘reset’ button in the hope it will eventually work but for now she seems stuck. A large portion of the population, a majority it would appear, have made up their mind about her, her government or both. This is especially pronounced in the additional member vote. Thirty-one percent takes them back to the regional share they secured in 2007.
The news isn’t much better for the Nationalists on independence. Support remains largely as it did in 2014, which indicates that Brexit still isn’t boosting support for separation. Obviously this could change if the negotiations get hairier or the manner in which we leave the EU brings dire economic or political consequences. Even so, we’ve already had several months of Brexit talks, and well-publicised problems for UK ministers, and still the SNP has not been able to parlay this into increased backing for a split.
The Nationalists, who spent almost a decade on a high, have finally encountered gravity and can’t shake it off. These results would return a parliament shorn of its nationalist majority, erecting a roadblock to a second referendum.
The big winners are Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Labour is up two points on the constituency vote, to 25%, and up six to 25% on the regional list. These numbers would return Scottish Labour to second place at Holyrood.
It is difficult to deny, much as I might like to, that this is a Corbyn bounce. England’s unfathomable flirtation with the most obnoxious leader in Labour’s history has extended north of the border. June’s election was no fluke; Labour is growing again in Scotland.
Jeremy Corbyn isn’t as left-wing as his devotees tell themselves but his rhetoric sounds authentic and that seems to be peeling off voters who previously defected to the Nats. This underlines the noises we’ve been hearing from some figures on the Left who have rekindled their warm feelings for Labour under Corbyn.
As a matter of politics, this is good news for Labour, but it must stick in the craw of those left-wingers who were never tempted by nationalism, who didn’t get carried away by the happy-clappy chauvinism of 2014, and stuck with Labour through pretty grim times. Still, that’s politics for you. If you want credit for consistency you’ll be waiting a while.
This is why Labour should be wary of calls from some within its ranks, such as MEP David Martin (to the extent he is still in their ranks). He says ‘the ground work should be being laid now for a potential SNP Labour coalition that to many will seem unthinkable’. There is a case to be made for such a governing alliance but it is not now and not while the SNP refuses to take independence off the table.
Martin’s angle is Brexit and, despite his praise for left-sounding aspects of the Programme for Government, what he really likes is Nicola Sturgeon’s anti-Brexit rhetoric. However, that rhetoric is bound up in the SNP’s agitation for independence. This might not bother Martin who, asked about independence in the wake of the EU referendum, said he was ‘not ruling it out’.
Scottish Labour has to be very careful here and recognise that David Martin’s interests, however reasonable, are not its own. The UK party policy (such as can be determined) is to support some form of Brexit and with a Tory government that is, on paper at least, weak and unstable, Labour cannot afford to be divided on the central issue of the day. Nor can the party in Scotland, after painful years of fighting nationalism and then having to convince the country that it was fighting nationalism, allow itself to backslide on the constitutional question. Independence is (for now) the millstone around Nicola Sturgeon’s neck — why should Scottish Labour offer to share the burden?
Where the Scottish Government proposes genuinely progressive policies (cross everything that can be crossed), Scottish Labour should be open to voting for them but a broader rapprochement would be risky. What happens if the May government collapses in the middle of a Scottish Labour love-bombing of the Nats? It would be a gift to Ruth Davidson in the ensuing election campaign.
And, yes, Labour will have to put its Scottishness to the fore if it is to build on its modest growth. The SNP has never had a monopoly on promising to ‘stand up to Westminster’ and ‘stick up for Scotland’ but Labour has to be cautious here — ‘Westminster’ could soon be Jeremy Corbyn. Bottom line: Labour has to remain anti-independence while deploying more soft-nationalist language but without playing into the hands of the SNP. Not easy but doable.
That was a bit of a detour. Back to the poll.
The Lib Dems are up five points to 10% on the regional vote, which would see them more than double their seat tally. The voters who abandoned them for the SNP in 2011, affronted by Nick Clegg’s coalition with the Tories, are returning. This is a vindication of Willie Rennie’s leadership. Many times he came under pressure from within to dump all over the party at Westminster, which he resisted, defending the coalition even at the height of its unpopularity.
He was also urged to soften the Lib Dems’ stance on the constitution and be more open to independence. Again, he refused and did the hard yards during the SNP’s post-referendum bounce. If these numbers were replicated at the next election, it would be just rewards for his foresight and efforts.
And the Tories? Have they hit their ceiling? Yes, they are up four points to 26% on the first vote but they’re down two to 21% on the second. This would return them to third place, which might seem a bit unfair given the relative stability of their support but they’re big boys and girls. Still, it’s clear that if Ruth Davidson wants to retain her position as leader of the opposition she will have to establish the Conservatives as something more than the No To Independence Party.