Scotsman/YouGov exclusive poll: • Coalition party to lose 11 Holyrood seats • SNP to pip Labour on constituency votes • Salmond dominates popularity ratings
THE Liberal Democrats have crashed to fifth place behind the Green Party in the race for Holyrood, an exclusive poll for The Scotsman reveals today.
The anger over the role Nick Clegg's party has played in supporting Tory cuts has led to a Scottish slump that would see the Lib Dems fall from having 16 MSPs in the Scottish parliament to just five.
The decline is so dramatic that the Greens are on course to overtake them, taking six Holyrood seats, a result that would be a humiliation for the Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott.
The YouGov survey also suggested that support is surging for Alex Salmond's SNP, which has overtaken Labour in the constituency vote for the Holyrood contest for the first time since last year's general election.
The poll showed that the SNP recorded 40 per cent compared with 39 per cent for Labour when the public was asked who they would support in the vote for the 73 first-past-the-post seats up for grabs on 5 May.
Published on the eve of tomorrow's Scotsman Leaders' Debate, the YouGov poll indicates that the battle for power now stands on a knife edge.
The SNP also benefited from Mr Salmond's high personal rating. According to the poll, 48 per cent of Scots said they would vote for the SNP leader if faced with a straight choice between him and Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, who recorded 33 per cent.
Despite Mr Salmond's popularity, the poll suggests that Labour will still end up as the largest party at Holyrood once the second vote for the regional list seats is taken into account. But it is a lead that has been whittled down dramatically over the last few weeks.
When it came to the regional vote, which determines the make-up of remaining 56 seats under proportional representation, Labour recorded 39 per cent support compared with 32 per cent for Mr Salmond's party. Those results would translate into Labour taking 57 seats compared with 48 seats for the SNP.
The unpopularity of the coalition government also appeared to be reflected in a fall in Tory support with the poll forecasting that Annabel Goldie's party's representation at Holyrood would drop from 18 to 13 seats.
SCOTTISH ELECTION 2011
• John Curtice analysis: Any hopes of easy Labour win are long gone
• Graphic: Scotsman/YouGov poll results
• YouGov polls explained
• SNP accused of hiding behind brand Salmond on poll papers
• Labour support: Sir Alex gives thumbs up to Gray
• TV debate: Gray open to coalition government
• The Steamie: Lack of Greens fails to discolour lively leader debate
A few days after prominent Lib Dem candidate Hugh O'Donnell resigned claiming the party had "betrayed" voters by going into government with the Tories, the poll showed that Lib Dem support in both the constituency and regional vote has fallen from 12 per cent to five per cent since August last year.
In contrast to the Lib Dems, the Greens recorded six per cent on the regional list vote in today's YouGov poll. The Greens are likely to have benefited from picking up supporters among disaffected Lib Dems.
If replicated on 5 May, that result would give Patrick Harvie's party six seats - one more than the five forecast for the Lib Dems.
Such a result has the potential to give the Greens a hugely significant role in any coalition negotiations after the election.
Labour and the Lib Dems would not be able to form a government on their own and the two parties could have to look at forming a rainbow coalition with the Greens.
Last night a jubilant Mr Harvie said the savings pursued by the Lib Dems in partnership with the Tories at Westminster were to blame for their demise."This election is becoming a clear referendum on the unpopular cuts agenda being driven by the Tories and the Lib Dems," Mr Harvie said. "From nuclear power and VAT hikes to tuition fees and fair votes, the list of pledges broken by Tavish's party goes on and on. Whoever becomes First Minister, the question is this: who should hold the balance of power? There are only two choices - either it'll be one of the Westminster coalition parties, or it'll be the Greens."
Last night a spokeswoman for the Lib Dems said: "This doesn't reflect what we're hearing on the doorstep across Scotland. Polls consistently get Liberal Democrat results wrong. The only poll that matters is 5 May."
With about five weeks to go until polling day, further evidence to suggest the tide is turning in favour of the SNP came with Mr Salmond's strong showing when his popularity was compared with the other party leaders. When asked who among the main party leaders would make the best First Minister, 38 per cent went for Mr Salmond and only 14 per cent said Iain Gray, the Labour leader.
Conservative leader Annabel Goldie was the choice of nine per cent, Tavish Scott recorded three per cent support while the Green leader Patrick Harvie received one per cent.
When the question was put as a straight choice between Mr Salmond and Mr Gray, the only leader with any chance of unseating the current First Minister, the SNP leader polled 48 per cent compared with his rival's 33 per cent. Even 20 per cent of Labour supporters preferred Mr Salmond in a straight choice between the two leaders.
When forced to choose between either Labour or the SNP, irrespective of who they would normally vote for, 44 per cent of the sample said they would rather have a government led by the SNP compared with 42 per cent who wanted Labour in charge.
Last night, the SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the poll results were "excellent" and they "confirmed that the SNP has the big momentum in this campaign".
She said: "It shows that we can reach the election-winning 40 per cent threshold, and we have also moved forward 6 points on the regional list since last month - where our 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' message stands us in extremely good stead to make further progress." The poll reinforced the message that Scots are inclined to vote quite differently in Holyrood elections than they do at Westminster.
Today's poll is the sixth YouGov survey since the May 2010 election and it showed that SNP support in the constituency vote has increased from a low of 29 per cent in August to today's figure of 40 per cent.Labour, on the other hand, has fallen from a high of 41 per cent earlier this month to 39 per cent.Labour's lead in the second regional vote would still leave the party with the most number of seats, but the 57 seats anticipated by today's poll is still a long way off the number needed for an overall majority.
Labour's election spokesman John Park said: "This poll shows it's neck and neck and that Labour is leading the pack to make Iain Gray the next First Minister."
A Conservative spokesman said: "We are confident that as more people hear our message of common sense and delivery, more will back us."