Could Labour lose all of its 15 remaining constituency seats in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May? And could it struggle to fend off the Scottish Conservatives as the largest opposition party in Scotland?
Such a prediction not long ago would have been laughed out of court. But the stunning success of the SNP in last year’s general election, the collapse of the traditional Labour vote and the controversies surrounding the party’s new leader Jeremy Corbyn suggest the party could face further misery ahead.
The prediction of a Labour constituency seat wipe-out comes from Robert Ford, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester. Based on recent polling, he calculates that support for Labour is down 11 per cent on its 2011 levels while the SNP is up eight per cent. This, he predicts, could see Labour’s representation in the Scottish Parliament fall to 25 seats or below, with the SNP on 70 and only a little way behind the Conservatives who could take 20 seats or more. Just to add to Labour’s gloom, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is said to be enjoying higher poll rating than Labour’s Kezia Dugdale.
And as if all this was not enough, research by former party pollster Deborah Mattinson found Labour voters in Scotland felt “abandoned” by the party and this “started many years before the independence referendum”.
Now the generality of voters – not just Labour diehards – will be entitled to express some scepticism over poll findings, given the tattered reputation of many leading pollsters.
But the findings do seem to tally with signs of continuing disenchantment with the party among traditional supporters – and the left wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn does not seem to be broadening the party’s appeal.
With just 100 days to go to the election, the SNP continues to enjoy a remarkable run of popularity. It has been helped in no small measure by the continuing popularity of Nicola Sturgeon, who has proved herself an assured and competent leader. It may be argued that her party deserves a rougher ride than the one it is currently experiencing. But controversy over Scottish NHS performance and standards in Scottish schools, the handling of Police Scotland – and questions over the business activities of some of the party’s high profile representatives – do not seem to have dented the SNP’s popularity or given Scottish Labour grounds for hoping that it may be able to claw back support any time soon.
There is sting to the charge of Scotland’s First Minister yesterday that Labour’s infighting UK-wide threatens to leave the party “without a shred of credibility”. The Scottish Conservatives under Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, look to have made some progress in de-toxifying the brand and may encourage many traditional supporters to return to the fold if they sense that their votes this time around will count for something. And the demise of the Liberal Democrats might also encourage disillusioned Tory voters to return to the fold. All this presents a major challenge for Kezia Dugdale in the period ahead.
On the trail of a success story
A Scottish gin trail – whoever would have thought it? How could a country famed for centuries the world over for its whisky turn to Mother’s Ruin for solace?
It’s enough to turn the loyal Scotch tippler to – well, a great Scottish gin, it now seems. The new Scottish gin trail marking 12 of Scotland’s best craft distilleries has been launched to coincide – of all things – with Burns Night.
A gin and tonic with ice and lemon to stand alongside the traditional Burns Supper? Traditionalists would surely be mortified. Whatever next? Campari and Soda with the trampit tatties? A Banana Daiquiri to wash down the mashed neeps?
But the notion is not as bizarre as it sounds. This is because gin has been a silent Scottish success story for many years – and we should fizz about it more than we do.
About 70 per cent of the UK’s gin is produced in Scotland and international exports are booming.
More than two-thirds of the gin distilled in the UK now goes to overseas drinkers, with gin bringing £1.76 billion to the economy.
And the number of UK gin brands has shot up from 31 in 2010 to an astonishing 73, with new brands often using locally-sourced ingredients and natural botanicals.
Many tipplers have come to prefer the lighter taste of gin and it has long been more favoured among female tipplers.
The new Scottish trail has been put together by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association with the support of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
So perhaps we should have an extra toast on Burns Night – and raise our glasses to Scotland’s gin-trepreneurs.