Ian Blackford insists Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf trusted by public as Labour surges to biggest lead over SNP for a decade

The first polling since the Whatsapp scandal makes grim reading for the SNP.

Humza Yousaf has been hit with a fresh polling blow ahead of a crucial week for the SNP as research suggested Labour has surged to its biggest lead over the SNP for a decade.

The poll by Nostat put Labour on 36 per cent, up three points since its last poll in October, with the SNP on 33 per cent, down four points.

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According to analysis by polling expert Sir John Curtice, it would see Labour win 28 seats in Scotland, with Humza Yousaf’s party on just 18.

Polling suggest Labour will win more MPs than Humza Yousaf's party in Scotland at the general election.Polling suggest Labour will win more MPs than Humza Yousaf's party in Scotland at the general election.
Polling suggest Labour will win more MPs than Humza Yousaf's party in Scotland at the general election.

The polling comes ahead of both the former First Minister and her former deputy John Swinney set to face gruelling appearances before the Covid Inquiry this week.

Both are likely to face questions over the scandal of SNP ministers deleting Whatsapps, something which has already damaged trust in the party.

In the first polling since the revelations, it emerged just 24 per cent of voters trusted Nicola Sturgeon, while almost 26 per cent believe Mr Yousaf is performing badly as leader.

Speaking on Sunday, the former SNP Wesminster leader Ian Blackford defended Ms Sturgeon, insisting she had done nothing wrong, and was trusted by the public.

He said: “I know what the First Minister was doing, day in and day out. Let’s not forget that the First Minister did over 250 press conferences over that period, putting herself in front of the public.“I know when the First Minister was taking decisions, whether it was in cabinet, or done with officials, all of that was documented. The First Minister did not routinely use Whatsapp as a mechanism to conduct business.

“When it comes to official documentation, all that has been provided.

“When you talk about trust, there is a poll today in The Sunday Times, 32 per cent of the public in Scotland trust Nicola Sturgeon, 25 per cent Humza Yousaf, far more than Rishi Sunak.

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“Nicola is still trusted by a higher proportion of the population in Scotland, bar none. Rishi Sunak on 16, half the rating of the Former First Minister. Let's put things into perspective”.

However, the Scottish Tories were quick to criticise his comments as “desperate”, insisting they were “fooling no one”.

Scottish Conservative Chairman, Craig Hoy MSP said: “He stuck to the now-preposterous claims that Nicola Sturgeon’s sole focus during the pandemic was the well-being of the nation and that decisions were not routinely taken via WhatsApp.

“Liz Lloyd’s messages show that neither of these were true: The SNP Government was taking decisions for political reasons to advance independence – and the minutes of a cabinet meeting prove this too – while, for example, decisions on the number of people allowed to attend funerals were taken on WhatsApp.

“Ian Blackford laughably cited Nicola Sturgeon’s daily Covid press briefings as proof of her supposed openness and accountability. In reality, these were a vehicle for self-promotion, grandstanding and pursuing division with the UK Government. If they were really an ordeal for the then First Minister, why was the SNP Government so desperate for broadcasters to continue covering them live?”.

The polling also showed that views on independence also remained close. 48 per cent oppose it, 47 per cent are in favour, and four per cent are unsure.

In a claim that will raise alarm at Bute House, Sir John explained that despite this close divide, Yes voters were continuing to move towards Labour.

He said: “Whereas at the end of 2022, shortly before Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, 80 per cent of current Yes supporters were saying they would vote SNP in a UK general election, that figure has now fallen to a new low of 63 per cent.

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“The SNP need to overcome two key problems. The first is the relative unpopularity of Humza Yousaf. About one in four (26 per cent) of those who voted SNP at the last Westminster election in 2019 believe that he is doing a bad job as first minister, and they appear especially likely to be unwilling to vote SNP again.”

The Labour leader Anas Sarwar polled minus 17 on trustworthiness, compared to minus 24 for Sir Keir Starmer.

Party strategists are now expected to focus on trust at the next general election, which will take place this year. A source said: “There will be voters who gave the SNP their vote in 2021 [the last Holyrood election] not because of independence or because they thought they were doing all that good a job but because they trusted them to govern Scotland. That has been shattered in the past year”.

Responding to the polling, SNP Deputy Leader Keith Brown repeated a line that’s clearly a new party strategy, insisting only SNP MPs could make Scotland’s voice heard.

He said: "The SNP will work harder than ever before to earn people's votes, and to hold and gain seats. Westminster simply isn't working for Scotland.

“Only with SNP MPs can we ensure that Scotland's voice is heard, and the independence movement - which carries the support of some half of Scotland's voters - can only be strong when the SNP is successful."

It comes after a bruising period for the SNP. Last week the Covid inquiry heard ministers and officials discussed policy over Whatsapp messages, despite party claims no official business was conducted over the messaging system. Since then, Ms Sturgeon and others have deleted their messages, raising questions about transparency.

It is the latest blow for the SNP, who last year saw Ms Sturgeon arrested and released without charge over an investigation into the party’s finances, her home and party headquarters searched by police in April, while her husband Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the SNP, and Colin Beattie, the former treasurer, were also arrested, questioned and released.



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