Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will today attempt to get her party’s Scottish Parliament election drive on track after a series of fresh setbacks that point to a meltdown for the party in the May vote.
The shadow cabinet has been warned the party may lose every constituency seat in Scotland and new polling suggests Labour could be overtaken by the Conservatives at Holyrood.
The election campaign enters its final 100 days today with Nicola Sturgeon expected to set out £230 million of spending on new schools across the country.
The First Minister yesterday warned that Labour’s infighting UK-wide under Jeremy Corbyn threatens to leave the party “without a shred of credibility,” while the Tories urged voters to ditch Labour’s “sinking ship” and back Ruth Davidson’s party in May.
Research by former party pollster Deborah Mattinson has found that Labour voters in Scotland felt “abandoned” by the party and this “started many years before the independence referendum”.
Ms Dugdale faces a showdown with senior Labour figures in London this week to set out the dire losses facing Labour in May. She remained upbeat ahead of her visit to a nursery in Edinburgh today. Labour has already pledged to raise taxes for high earners to invest in education and to help first-time buyers on to the housing ladder.
Ms Dugdale said: “I’m excited that for the first time we’re going to have a Scottish Parliament election based around tax and welfare powers.
“We can choose now in Scotland either to manage austerity which the SNP seem intent on doing or to make different choices and invest in our kids’ future.”
But shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “Nobody is under any illusions this is going to be a difficult election, the polls are showing that the at the moment.”
The Tories are now close to overtaking Labour as the main party of opposition at Holyrood. Ruth Davidson’s party has reached a record high of 17 per cent according to a Panelbase poll at weekend – just four points behind Labour. Significantly, this is up three points in the constituency vote, and two in the regional vote compared with Panelbase’s last survey in September. In contrast, Labour has lost ground, dropping two points to 21 per cent in the constituency vote, and down three points to 19 per cent in the regional vote.
The poll of 1,054 voters, conducted between 8 and 14 January, found support for the SNP at 50 per cent for the constituency vote and 48 per cent for the regional vote. The Liberal Democrats recorded support of 6 per cent and 7 per cent for the constituency and regional polls respectively, while the Greens are on 3 per cent for constituency, and 5 per cent for regional.
The gloomy outlook for Labour is backed up by weekend analysis by Robert Ford, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester, who said Labour could lose all 15 of its remaining constituency seats in the Scottish parliament as the SNP strengthens its grip. Based on recent polling, he calculates that Labour is 11 per cent down on its 2011 levels of support, while the SNP is up 8 per cent.
“Labour could fall to 25 seats or below, far behind the SNP, who could claim up to 70, and only a little way ahead of the Conservatives, who could take 20 or more,” he warns.
The report into the party’s general election defeat was published last week by Dame Margaret Beckett, but Ms Mattinson, who carried out voter research to feed into the report, said her findings were “reduced to one bullet point”. Voters “didn’t trust Labour” to run the economy and “didn’t see” Ed Miliband as prime minister, she said.
Ms Sturgeon will today announce which schools are to benefit from £230m of Scottish Government spending which was first set out in the Budget last year.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said yesterday: “Our most transformational investment in the next parliament will be in education.
“We’ll almost double current provision of government funded early learning and childcare and right through to college and university level we are determined to deliver further achievement for Scotland.”
“We will spend the next 100 days leading an ambitious, national debate about how to keep Scotland moving forward through progressive policies. Our mission could not be clearer – to earn the right on our record and our commitment to serve an unprecedented third term.”