John Curtice: Union parties face Nationalist surge

Voters will continue to back SNP because they put Scotland's priorities first. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Voters will continue to back SNP because they put Scotland's priorities first. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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the scattered and divided forces of the parties that back the Union face a formidable task in their attempts to stop the Nationalist “surge” engulfing them all.

The SNP have been averaging 45 per cent or more in Scotland-wide polls ever since the end of October – and if anything, their support may be increasing.

Many voters now regard the SNP, not Labour, as the party of greater equality

The most recent polls suggest the party might win 48 per cent and as many as 53 of Scotland’s 59 seats.

Constituency polling by Lord Ashcroft confirms this picture. The SNP have been placed ahead in no fewer than 26 of the 27 Scottish seats where the noble lord has conducted a poll.

The Nationalist surge rests on two foundations – both a product of the independence referendum.

First, the referendum occasioned a major debate about how Scotland should be governed.

For many voters, and especially those who voted Yes last September, the question of Scotland’s future continues to be the predominant political question on their mind.

It has crowded out the issue of who should govern Britain that is usually central at Westminster elections. The SNP has long been widely regarded as “Scotland’s party”.

Consequently, voters are always more inclined to back the SNP if their focus is on Scotland’s future rather than that of the UK as a whole.

Second, the referendum gave the SNP an opportunity to lay out a vision of the kind of Scotland that the party wants to create. A key item on that agenda was the creation of a more equal country.

As a result, many voters now regard the SNP rather than Labour as the party that is keenest on greater equality.

To stop the SNP in their tracks, voters will have to be persuaded that whether the Conservatives or Labour govern Britain matters after all. But so far they seem disinclined to listen.

l John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University