Analysis: Poll figures demonstrate constitutional malaise under which Scottish politics strains

Dig out a thesaurus and you can find many words to describe the latest polling numbers for the Scottish Conservatives.

Desperate, appalling, horrendous may apply, but more apt for Douglas Ross’ reaction would be excruciating, unendurable, and hopeless.

Hopes of a revival in the polls under a new Conservative leader, of a restoration of the Tory brand in Scotland, or relying on the tried and tested Conservative strengths of economic credibility have perished.

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The figures are bleak – as bad as the 2015 general election annihilation as Scotland rode the post-indyref SNP wave – and the truth is that they could get worse before they get better.

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Whether Ross survives long enough to see any eventual recovery is questionable.

But, while Labour will rightly be delighted at the gains they have made, the figures represent the central problem for Anas Sarwar and Ross in taking on the SNP behemoth.

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Both parties exist within a constitutionally dominated political landscape where, fundamentally, both are speaking to the same half of the electorate that does not want independence.

Labour are yet to make the breakthrough with softer SNP voters who are key to their future electability in Holyrood terms, so much so that the party is not matching its Westminster gains in Holyrood.

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New polling underlines constitutional divide in Scotland

The Scottish Conservatives benefit from this, however, with their Westminster losses not translating into Holyrood losses, at least not as significantly – yet.

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This could be due to unionist voters viewing Holyrood as the central constitutional battleground for Scottish independence, with Tory voters viewing their party as the best vehicle for unionism.

In Westminster, this is less important as regardless of result there will be a unionist majority so voters look at actual policy and competence, rather than who can best frustrate the SNP’s constitutional sabre-rattling.

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Ultimately, the figures underline the constitutional malaise under which Scottish politics strains.

Not much is likely to change until that question is dealt with, and despite Labour protestations about the potential impact of their party in government, that is likely to only be through a second referendum or a significant rewriting of Scotland’s role within the UK.

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Merely wishing the problem eventually goes away, which appears to be the hope of both unionist parties, is doomed to fail, if only because it blocks their own routes to power.

All episodes of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, are out now.

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It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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