The opinion poll boost for the Nationalists is not coming from Scotland’s poorest and most deprived, writes Bill Jamieson
ANY lingering doubt that Scotland stands on the brink of an epochal political change has been removed by this week’s opinion polls. The Scottish National Party is poised to emerge not just as the country’s biggest political party but with a strength at Westminster that will have a profound impact across the UK.
The conventional wisdom is that the surge in SNP support is a “disaffected Labour” phenomenon – one confined to traditional Labour heartlands. But this underplays a broader momentum that is sweeping the party to a momentous result.
The latest YouGov poll finds the SNP has a 21-point lead over Labour and is on course to take 48 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 27 per cent. Ed Miliband could lose as many as 30 seats in Scotland to the SNP – a result that could seriously prejudice his prospects of becoming the next prime minister. “Labour,” says SNP general election campaign director Angus Robertson, “are paying a huge price for their ‘toxic’ referendum alliance with the Tories.”
He was responding specifically to 16 constituency polls published by Lord Ashcroft. This has full sample polls in 14 Labour seats and two Lib Dem seats, with the SNP projected to win all but one. The Ashcroft polling supports a previous analysis by Professor John Curtice that the SNP may be doing even better in areas where Labour have been strongest.
Now that is certainly the main feature. But it is by no means the only one. For there are several others in the You Gov poll about the strength of SNP support.
First, the data reveals that among voters aged 60 and over – those who were said to have voted heavily against independence in last September’s referendum – support for the SNP now stands at 42 per cent. That is way above any other party preference. Those in this age category intending to vote Labour are at 31 per cent and, for the Conservatives, 16 per cent.
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Second, equally surprising, are voting intentions among those in the ABC1 socio-economic category. Here the SNP also looks to be an outstanding winner, with the percentage in this group intending to vote SNP in May standing at 52 per cent – way above Labour at 21 per cent and the Conservatives at 17 per cent.
All the usual caveats should be borne in mind about opinion polls and sampling methodology. And much can change between now and 7 May. But this survey would suggest that the momentum behind the SNP is not confined to disillusioned C2DEs in Labour constituencies. Indeed, voting intentions according to YouGov among C2DEs would appear to be slightly weaker for the SNP relative to those in the ABC1 category: 44 per cent here intending to vote SNP and 32 per cent Labour.
The readings suggest that for all the focus on the surge in support in Scotland’s Labour marginals, the SNP is still very much a party with broad national appeal. Its notable swing to the Left has not led to a weakening in support among higher income groups. Indeed, it appears to be stronger than ever.
Can it really be that Nicola Sturgeon’s pledges on welfare spending, Trident abolition and her rhetoric on income inequality have won over the fretting, fur-lined clientele of Brewin Dolphin and Baillie Gifford?
There is certainly a phenomenon in financial markets that might help explain this: momentum investing. This is a strategy based on the tendency for markets to keep going in a particular direction – winning shares keep winning, and losing shares keep losing. Once a trend is established, it is more likely to continue in that direction than to move against the trend. And there is no doubt that – for now – the SNP is enjoying “Big Mo”.
There is a third notable feature in the Ashcroft survey poll that is particularly alarming for Labour. Ashcroft found the SNP ahead in 15 of the 16 seats he looked at. In the Labour-held constituencies the overall swing to the SNP was 25.4 per cent. This ranged from 21 per cent in Airdrie and Shotts to 27 per cent in Dundee West and Motherwell & Wishaw.
Among these seats only Glasgow North East would stay in Labour hands if these results were to be repeated at the election. Douglas Alexander, Labour’s campaign manager and the shadow foreign secretary, would lose his Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat with a swing to the SNP of 25 per cent. While the Conservative vote (such as it was) has held up in these seats well, the Lib Dems have collapsed: only 12 per cent of the party’s 2010 supporters said they would vote Lib Dem again; nearly half (47 per cent) said they would switch to the SNP.
But here’s the killer finding for Ed Miliband in Labour-held seats: only just under four in ten (38 per cent) said they were dissatisfied with David Cameron and would rather have Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.
Meanwhile 44 per cent said either that they were satisfied with Cameron (18 per cent) or that they were dissatisfied but preferred him to Miliband (26 per cent). Just over half (59 per cent) of Labour voters said they would rather see Miliband as PM, as did just under half (49 per cent) of Labour-SNP switchers.
How reassuring – not – for Mr Miliband that “just over half” of Labour voters would rather see their party leader as Prime Minister: testimony to the failure of Miliband’s style and persona to galvanise support in Scotland.
One other conclusion from these remarkable polls: in Scotland at least this is not, despite all the hype, a fragmenting, multi-party election. It is back to a two-party battle: Labour v SNP with the Conservatives a gallant, faraway third. Voting intentions for other parties – Green and Ukip – are below 5 per cent on the YouGov poll. So, too, is support for the Lib Dems (3 per cent). Quite what purpose is served in Scotland by a seven-party TV debate circus other than avoiding giving offence to rare and exotic species is a mystery.
It may be said that this is really not much of a revolution in Scotland: a tartan Left poised to shatter and topple the Red Left – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
But the bigger picture is not just of a crushing defeat for Labour and the end of the party’s decades-long hegemony in Scotland. It is the prospect of Westminster politics set for a turbulence not seen since the days of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish home rule question – and very possibly with a similar result.