THE outcome of the independence referendum could hinge on whether Scots fear a surge in support for the Conservatives south of the Border and a victory for David Cameron’s party in next year’s General Election, a new poll has found.
The ICM survey for The Scotsman revealed 41 per cent of Scots would vote Yes to leaving the UK if they thought the Tories would defeat Labour in 2015 – just one per cent behind the No camp.
In contrast, 36 per cent of the same sample group said they would vote for independence if they believed Labour would return to power.
The findings suggest the prospect of Conservative Party success at UK-level could tempt some Labour supporters to back independence in the referendum on 18 September. The poll illustrates hostility north of the Border towards the Tories, who have just one Scottish MP.
A total of 44 per cent said they would vote No in the referendum if they felt at the time of the independence vote that Ed Miliband’s Labour party would defeat the Tories in 2015.
The SNP leadership has made a series of pitches to Labour voters to back independence by stating that the only way to end the prospect of Tory rule at Westminster is to vote Yes.
SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon last night seized on the poll findings to warn that Scotland faces a permanent risk of being outvoted at general elections by the rest of the UK, with the prospect of Tory governments at Westminster. The Deputy First Minister appealed to Labour supporters at this month’s SNP conference, saying: “Don’t vote No to stop the SNP, vote Yes to reclaim the Labour Party.”
Ms Sturgeon last night said a “democratic deficit” meant Scotland could face the re-election of a Tory government despite a lack of support for Mr Cameron’s party north of the Border.
She said: “With just one MP in Scotland, the Tories have no mandate here. And yet people across Scotland are paying a huge price at the hands of a Tory-Lib Dem government.
“Only a Yes vote in September will put an end to the democratic deficit we face under Westminster rule. And only independence can ensure that Scotland gets the government it votes for. With recent polls showing support for Yes at new highs, more and more people are realising that Scotland’s future is an independent one.”
But a senior Labour politician insisted Mr Miliband was well-placed to defeat the Tories, who failed to win outright in 2010 and have governed in coalition with the Lib Dems for four years.
Labour MSP Richard Baker, who is contesting the Westminster seat of Aberdeen North for the party in 2015, accepted that the General Election could influence how Scots vote in the referendum. However Mr Baker, who is involved in the anti-independence campaign, stated that UK Labour policies such as Mr Miliband’s pledge for an energy price freeze and a curb on bankers’ bonuses meant the party was well placed to win in 2015.
He said: “Clearly there are many voters in Scotland who want to see Ed Miliband as the next prime minister and for many voters this is an important issue in making up their mind in the referendum. Labour does have a lead in the polls and as a Labour MSP and a candidate for the next General Election, I’m confident of a Labour victory.
“Labour has had a consistent poll lead and Ed Miliband has made a series of positive pledges over energy process freezes and tackling the cost-of-living crisis.”
Labour will this week seek to bolster its support in Scotland, as Mr Miliband takes his shadow cabinet north of the Border to drum up support for the vote against independence.
His team will meet in Glasgow on Friday and Mr Miliband plans to host a public meeting in the area, mainly aimed at persuading undecided voters. Senior Labour MPs will tour the country on Thursday and Friday.
Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “On Friday, I’ll be pleased to welcome my shadow cabinet colleagues to Glasgow where we’ll be discussing the issues that matter most to people across Scotland. We’ll show that it’s only Labour that has the positive, progressive vision to take Scotland forward.”
The referendum on 18 September is not being fought against a “Conservative England”, she said. “On Friday, Scots will see a Labour shadow cabinet made up of men and women from all across the UK, working in the interests of people the length and breadth of our country,” she added.
“This week we will be saying loud and clear that the best prospects for a stronger Scotland lie with Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.”
Labour MP Gordon Brown, will also make an appearance in Glasgow on Tuesday to focus on pensions in a pro-Union speech.
However, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said: “Sending more Westminster politicians on a day trip to help the Tory-led No campaign can only backfire, because the people of Scotland have heard it all before.
“They know full well that to ensure we get the powers we need to create a wealthier, fairer country and rid ourselves of the bedroom tax, Trident nuclear weapons and governments we don’t vote for, Scotland needs to vote Yes in September.”
Today’s poll follows a survey in Scotland on Sunday by ICM yesterday, which showed Yes on 39 per cent compared to 42 per cent for No. That represents a blow for Better Together, because the figures showed that support for a Yes vote had remained steady compared to a poll a month ago, while support for the No camp had fallen sharply from 46 per cent.
High street bookmakers’ Ladbrokes last night slashed its odds on a vote for independence to 9/4, the shortest in its history, with bets on No at 1/3 as the gap between Yes and No narrowed.
John Curtice: Doubt cast on independence theories
There are two very fashionable theories about how developments between now and September could deliver an important boost to Yes support.
Doubt is cast on both them by our latest poll.
The first theory is that Scotland will recoil in horror if UKIP does well in the European elections next month. The country will not want to remain in a union that is so Eurosceptic, if not indeed xenophobic.
UKIP does look set to do well. An ICM Britain-wide poll published yesterday gave it second place and 27% support.
However, if UKIP does do very well in the European elections, Scotland might elect a UKIP MEP too – leaving it not looking so different from the rest of the UK after all.
Although at 10%, UKIP support is far lower in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain, that is still enough to put the party just a point behind the Conservatives – and consequently just a point away from winning a seat. Moreover, as is the case south of the border, by far the richest source of UKIP recruits comprises voters who have previously backed the Tories.
The second theory is that Scotland will swing in favour of independence if it thinks the Tories look set to win next year’s general election – a prospect that in fact will looks less likely if UKIP do perform well next month.
However, the proportion saying they would vote Yes in those circumstances is only two points above the current level of Yes support anyway, while the No tally is unaffected.
And although some wavering voters who backed the SNP or Labour in 2011 would switch to Yes given the prospect of a Tory victory at Westminster, Conservative voters and those who did not vote at all would swing to No.
• John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University