IF SUPPORTERS of proportional representation ever need a case study to highlight their point of view, they could do worse than point to yesterday’s Ipsos Mori poll of Scottish political opinion for STV.
If its findings are replicated in the general election on 7 May, the SNP will win every single Scottish seat, with 54 per cent of the vote.
That half the vote can win you all the seats tells its own story about the iniquities of the first-past-the-post system at Westminster.
That aside, this is an extraordinary poll finding. Of course, it comes with all the usual caveats – an opinion poll is a snapshot, not a prediction; it is only as good as its sampling; there are margins of error to take into account.
But even so, this poll paints a picture of the Scottish political landscape that would have been unrecognisable just a few months ago.
This is not the way Scottish politics is meant to work. The SNP scored almost half of the popular vote in a landslide victory at the Holyrood elections in 2011, but precedent suggested much of that vote would go back to Labour at the UK general election.
That does not appear to be happening. On the contrary, disillusionment with Labour seems the defining feature of this election.
So what is going on? Is this a signal that Scottish opinion has moved beyond 18 September and is now in favour of independence?
Or is something more sophisticated going on – a growth of affinity with the Nationalists’ image and message, short of support for full sovereignty?
Doorstep canvassers report that voters are angry at Labour for a range of reasons: the hubris of its MPs over a number of years; its negativity during the referendum; its willingness to team up with the Conservatives in the Better Together campaign.
Other polling has suggested Scottish voters are attracted by the notion that a strong block of SNP MPs could help bolster Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, and – in Nicola Sturgeon’s words – “lock the Tories out” of Downing Street.
Labour has simply not managed to get across the counter-argument – which is just as arithmetically possible – that by reducing the number of Labour MPs this strategy could allow the Tories to sneak back in. If David Cameron is the leader of the biggest party he could, as such, win the support of the Lib Dems which, topped up with the DUP, may be enough to take him over the 323-seat winning line.
With polling day now eight days away, we are in an expectations game. And polls like this one inevitably raise expectations of what the SNP can achieve.
If the Nationalists fail to replicate these poll numbers on the day, they will be said to have done worse than expected. If Labour return a dozen or so MPs they will be able to claim they defied expectations.
Polling is shaping this election like never before.
A lesson from mother nature
MOTHER Nature, it seems, dislikes being tampered with. What other conclusion can we come to as we ponder the reintroduction of beavers to the Scottish countryside?
Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland more than 400 years ago, but nature-lovers have long talked about the possibility of reintroducing them.
In 2009, 16 beavers were let loose in Knapdale, west of Lochgilphead in Argyll, by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), in a pilot programme.
The experiment was not a success, with only half the beavers surviving.
And yet, in Tayside, another group of beavers, some 150 strong, is thriving without any help from wildlife professionals or government agencies – or the spending of any public money whatsover.
The success of this group has, it seems, been the source of much angst among the government agencies tasked with looking after our countryside.
SNH officials are worried this group could, in fact, have been too successful. According to an agency report, “any beaver dams left in place here could cause the extensive network of drainage ditches to fail, causing flooding and interfering with cultivation of productive land”.
There seems to be no ready explanation of why the Tayside beavers – believed to have escaped or been released from private collections – have had more luck than the government-sanctioned Argyll beavers.
Nature, it would appear, is better than humans at beaver management. Perhaps humankind should stop trying so hard to mould nature to its will, and just leave it to its own devices.