A new poll released yesterday would have given First Minister Nicola Sturgeon plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
A Scottish sample of the survey by Lord Ashcroft revealed that Ms Sturgeon had the only positive approval rating of any politician in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon’s +11 rating compares favourable with the -21 of Tory leader Ruth Davidson or the abysmal -41 rating of Labour’s Kezia Dugdale.
The survey, which took in a number of Scottish, UK, and world politicians, had only Ms Sturgeon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the leaders with positive approval.
At a time when the Tories are buoyed by firmly ensconcing themselves as Scotland’s opposition party, and main political outlet for anti-independence sentiment, the negative ratings for their party leader could provide a note of caution ahead of next month’s local elections.
But how much can the First Minister take from these approval ratings? And how different are they from previous surveys?
For any politician who has been as prominent in Scottish politics as long as Nicola Sturgeon, any positive approval rating is impressive.
For someone who has been intrinsically involved, first as the number two then as the leader, of a political party that has been in office a decade, it is even more impressive.
The only drawback for the First Minister is that her UK-wide approval ratings are on the wane somewhat.
After impressing in the televised debates ahead of the General Election in 2015, Ms Sturgeon briefly found herself the most popular politician in Britain.
A UK stage was considered important at that time to project Sturgeon, who hadn’t yet contested an election as First Minister as a stateswoman.
The polished performances that led to a dramatic upswing in popularity are only thrown into sharper relief by the fact that of the seven party leaders who took part, only Ms Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru leader Leeanne Wood are still in post.
The Ashcroft polls shows that when asked to rate the First Minister’s performance between 0 and 100, where 0 means terrible and 100 means excellent, 36 per cent of UK correspondents rated Ms Sturgeon between 0 and 10.
While maintaining high approval ratings in the UK shouldn’t overly concern a politician who only seeks to govern one particular part of it, SNP advisers will be keen to limit the ill-will British voters feel towards Ms Sturgeon as she seeks to extricate Scotland from the ‘hard Brexit’ deal that Theresa May is pursuing.
Arresting a decline?
The SNP will be hopeful that these new figures halt an unhelpful narrative that Ms Sturgeon’s approval ratings are on the wane.
A range of polls for What Scotland Thinks, a project for pollsters Yougov, had showed the First Minister taking a hit in approval despite winning the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.
People tended to have strong feelings either way when asked about the First Minister’s performance, which led to a spate of articles in certain sections of the press about the Ms Sturgeon’s ‘plummeting’ approval ratings.
In truth, it was never the case that the First Minister was suddenly unpopular in comparison to other party leaders, as some thought.
With so few people in any doubt as to who the First Minister is, her ‘don’t know’ ratings are always going to be lower than other politicians.
For example, in the last poll about job satisfaction, when asked to rank Ms Sturgeon’s as doing ‘very well’, ‘fairly well’, ‘fairly badly’, or ‘very badly’, just 10 per cent of respondents said ‘don’t know’.
By contrast, don’t know figures for Ruth Davidson were as high as 25 per cent.
Removing ‘don’t know’ answers gives the impression that satisfaction for Ms Davidson is much higher, which is affected by the high percentage of respondents who offered no opinion.
The Lord Ashcroft polling shows that the First Minister does, however, have a popularity edge over her Tory rival for now.
That edge that Ms Sturgeon enjoys will be noted through gritted teeth by supporters of Ruth Davidson.
Those who speculated Ms Sturgeon’s slight approval ratings decline meant the end of her party’s role as the natural party of government in Scotland, noted with glee the improved performance of the Scottish Tory leader.
That’s not to say that Ruth Davidson hasn’t had impressive approval figures, especially with traditional historical antipathy to modern Conservatives in large swathes of the country.
However, the most recent data from Lord Ashcroft suggests there may be more to it than simply stating that Ruth Davidson is the most popular party leader in Britain.
Lord Ashcroft’s results might manage expectation ahead of a difficult stretch for the Conservatives with mounting anger over the silence of Ms Davidson on the controversial ‘rape clause’ enacted by her colleagues at Westminster.
When one bookmaker put Ms Davidson at the head of the market to be the next First Minister after Nicola Sturgeon, Maurice Golden, a Tory MSP, tweeted that his party leader was “odds-on favourite” to be the next occupant of Bute House. Unfortunately for Mr Golden, the 6/1 offered was far from odds-on, indeed it suggests that Ruth Davidson not being elected First Minister has an 86 per cent chance of happening.
So there is clearly plenty to pore over from both opponents and supporters of Nicola Sturgeon as she celebrates her standalone status as the only leader in Scotland with positive approval.