Our latest Ipsos Mori Scottish Political Monitor, conducted in the week prior to the SNP’s virtual 2020 party conference, provides yet more evidence of the party’s popularity with Scottish voters.
The headline figures – 55 per cent saying they would vote SNP on their constituency vote if there were a Scottish Parliament election tomorrow, 47 per cent saying the same for their list vote, and 56 per cent saying they would vote Yes if there were another referendum on independence – provide cause enough for celebration for the party.
But just as striking is the continued faith the Scottish public express in the SNP to handle a wide range of issues, from coronavirus to schools. Across all the issues we asked about, the SNP was more trusted to handle them effectively than were either of its two main rivals at Holyrood.
Minor dents from sustained criticism
On some issues, this is not surprising. Surveys have long shown the SNP outperforms other parties in the eyes of the public with respect to "standing up for Scotland”, for example – and our survey found that 75 per cent trusted the SNP “a great deal” or “quite a lot” to stand up for Scotland’s interests, compared with 36 per cent who said the same of the Scottish Labour Party and 30 per cent for the Scottish Conservative Party.
However, even on policy issues on which the SNP have received sustained criticism from their opposition counterparts and the media, trust in the SNP appears to have been, at most, marginally dented.
The party’s record on education has come in for regular questioning in recent years, even before the various U-turns over school and university re-opening and exam results over the summer. Yet as many as 59 per cent of the Scottish public say they trust the SNP “a great deal” or “quite a lot” to deal effectively with managing education and Scotland’s schools – considerably higher than the 40 per cent who say they trust the Scottish Labour Party to do so, or the 33 per cent who say the same of the Scottish Conservative Party.
And while both Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross have criticised the SNP’s record on public services, two-thirds of the Scottish public trust the SNP to manage the NHS in Scotland, compared with under a third who trust the Conservative party to do the same.
Labour and Tories behind on perceived strengths
At the same time, more people trust the SNP than trust Labour or the Conservatives even on areas which might be perceived as relative strengths for those parties.
The issue on which the Labour Party attracts its highest levels of trust is tackling inequality in Scotland – but even on this topic, just 42 per cent trust Labour “a great deal” or “quite a lot”, compared with 65 per cent who trust the SNP. And just 32 per cent trust the Scottish Conservative Party to manage Scotland’s economy effectively, compared with 59 per cent who trust the SNP to do so.
The election campaign ahead of May 2021’s Holyrood elections may provide a greater platform for their political rivals to chip away at the SNP’s record on key policy areas. But these figures suggest they will have an uphill challenge to convince the public to place their trust in the competence of another party, even on those issues they might see as relatively easier targets.
The parties will also have to determine precisely how they navigate the constitutional question in their campaigning next year. Here, our findings provide a stark illustration of the challenge for Labour.
SNP and Conservative support divides fairly clearly along Yes/No lines. But Labour support is more split on the constitutional question; while 69 per cent of Labour supporters say they would vote No in a future indyref, 25 per cent would vote Yes.
Given the precariousness of Labour’s current polling numbers – our poll put them in third place, on just 14 per cent of the constituency vote, behind the Conservatives on 22 per cent – Labour can ill afford to alienate either its unionist supporters, or the minority of Yes voters who favour them over the SNP.
And then there is leadership – our polls have consistently found that Nicola Sturgeon is rated head and shoulders above her rivals, not only at Holyrood (where Richard Leonard and Douglas Ross have as much of a problem of public recognition as disapproval) but also, crucially for the Conservative Party, at Westminster.
The unpopularity of Boris Johnson north of the border is such that Douglas Ross must be thinking of ways to tactfully discourage him from any further Scottish holidays in the run-up to May’s election.
So, while the SNP enters 2021 in an enviable position, its rivals need to find ways of creating chinks in its apparently impregnable armour, while managing their own difficulties: in Labour’s case, finding a constitutional position that will not alienate any of their current supporters, and for the Tories, drawing attention away from the performance of their less than beloved leader at Westminster.
Rachel Ormston and Emily Gray, Ipsos MORI Scotland
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