Nicola Sturgeon has failed to convince voters that education and public services are her “defining mission” in government, with most believing her priority is securing independence.
New figures suggest only one in 20 voters think the First Minister has the NHS and schools at the forefront of her mind, highlighting the SNP’s struggle to deliver a general election message beyond its core supporters.
Voters go to the polls on Thursday, with the Nationalists expected to lose seats to the Conservatives and other unionist parties also hopeful of making gains.
Ms Sturgeon said education would be her “defining mission” when she formed a minority government after winning the 2016 Scottish election.
But polling commissioned by the Scottish Labour Party suggests most voters think the SNP’s real priority is independence.
Last night Scottish Labour’s party election broadcast accused the nationalists of sounding like a “broken record” with their demands for a second independence referendum.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Labour found 62 per cent of Scots believe Ms Sturgeon’s “defining mission” was achieving Scottish independence, compared to just 6 per cent who said “helping the NHS”, 5 per cent who chose “bringing more jobs to Scotland”, 4 per cent who said “protecting local government services”, and 3 per cent who thought it was “improving Scotland’s schools”.
People who voted Yes in the 2014 independence referendum were more likely to believe the Scottish Government was prioritising public services, with 53 per cent saying independence was Ms Sturgeon’s defining mission compared to 73 per cent of No voters.
A majority of supporters of all parties think independence is the First Minister’s priority, running from 55 per cent for those who voted SNP in 2015, to 85 per cent for Lib Dem supporters.
YouGov questioned 1,105 adults in Scotland online between Tuesday and friday last week.
Scottish Labour’s general election campaign manager, James Kelly MSP claimed the “tide has turned” against Ms Sturgeon.
“This poll clearly shows that her popularity is in freefall because voters want her to get on with the day job,” he said.
“Quite simply they do not believe Ms Sturgeon when she claims her ‘defining mission’ is education, and they know that all she cares about is a divisive second independence referendum. The result of her obsession with independence is 4,000 fewer teachers under the SNP, more than 90,000 patients waiting longer than four hours at A&E last year, and local services like care for the elderly and schools facing nearly £170m of cuts this year alone.”
Opposition parties pointed to Ms Sturgeon’s demands for a second independence referendum after the approval ratings for party leaders revealed a big fall in the First Minister’s popularity.
Last week’s Ipsos/Mori survey saw net satisfaction with how Ms Sturgeon is doing her job dip into negative territory for the first time, with 50 per cent of respondents saying they were dissatisfied compared to 46 per cent who were satisfied.
Her net score has fallen by 18 points since September, the last time the question was asked. The latest survey made Ms Sturgeon the least popular Scottish leader, with Labour’s Kezia Dugdale seeing an improvement of 8 points to -2 in the past eight months.
Last week Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed voters were “spitting mad” over the insistence that the Scottish Government be allowed to hold a new independence referendum, while Ms Dugdale claimed Ms Sturgeon had squandered her status as “mother of the nation”.
The SNP leader denied her popularity was on the slide in Scotland in an appearance on Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. She insisted her approval ratings “compare pretty favourably” to those of other UK political leaders and said the SNP was on course to win the election in Scotland by a wide margin.
“I wouldn’t say they’ve slipped so low, but leaders approval ratings will go up and down and I think its probably the wrong thing for leaders to pay too much attention to that rather than to do what they think are the right things in different circumstances.
“I would say that my approval ratings compare pretty favourably to any other leader in Scotland and the UK.” She added: “The SNP is going into this election – and I take nothing for granted about the poll on Thursday – but we’re going into this election significantly ahead in the polls of our nearest rivals.
“Again, I stress I’m not taking a single vote for granted but we’re on course to win this election in Scotland.
“Now I think that’s a pretty strong position to be in. Of course if you’re in government, if you’ve been in government as the SNP has been now for ten years then there will be people who will who disagree with you on a number of things.”